Total Drek

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I KNEW it!

Readers of the New York Times may have noticed a recent article reporting on something I've suspected for a long time: greater sexual equality is a good thing for married couples. Seriously:

EVER since Betty Friedan urged women to leave the house and pursue careers, people have argued over whether women’s marriages and romantic prospects would suffer for it. Was a financially successful woman a threat to her husband or a relief?

Last week, a report from the Pew Research Center about what it called “the rise of wives” revived the debate. Based on a study of Census data, Pew found that in nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.

While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.


While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.

Indeed, this reminds me of the empirical finding that as contraception is taught in schools teen pregnancy and abortion rates both decline, whereas the product of eight years of emphasis on "abstinence only" has been markedly less successful. In a twist that should surprise nobody, when women as well as men have sources of power we all tend to be a bit happier. Things are not completely easy, however, as some commentary later in the article made me think of my own wife:

Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.


She added, “In many ways women are their own worst enemies — we want men to do it, but we want to tell them how they should do it.”

Men, meanwhile, can struggle with the social expectation that husbands should always be the breadwinner. The recession, among other things, has made that expectation less realistic.


And the blurring of traditional gender roles appears to have a positive effect. Lynn Prince Cooke, a sociology professor at the University of Kent in England, has found that American couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are less likely to divorce compared with couples where the man is the sole breadwinner.

See, honey? Now will you please stop trying to hog the dishwashing? I have science on my side and everything!

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Blogger Jay Livingston said...

I don't know the research on this, but the data cited in the Times article has a little ecological fallacy thing going on: "in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher." Also a little post-hoc reasoning: "divorce rates . . . have fallen as women have made economic gains." Just because the article is telling us something we want to hear doesn't mean we should accept dodgy logic.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 6:58:00 PM  
Blogger tina said...

I get so miffed when I hear about how women are just soooo unwilling to give up the "power" of parenting. Tell me, if the Kid shows up to school without socks because Dad has more "relaxed" standards, who will suffer the ridicule? The Mom. It falls on the Mom, and that's why the Mom won't let it go.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 7:21:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Jay: Yeah, I actually noticed that about the study as well. I was in a hurry to dash off a post, though, so I completely forgot to remark on it following my cheap attempt at humor. Thanks for bringing it up!

Tina: I had a weird reaction to that as well, although in truth we could make the same comment about the male being blamed if the family doesn't have enough money. I think the useful take home is that both partners have to communicate and be flexible, although "flexible" shouldn't mean "allow the children out of the house looking like ragamuffins."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 7:47:00 AM  

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