The Female Breadwinner, Ctd

A new report from the Pew Research Center finds yet more evidence that women are becoming the primary earners in their households. Bryce Covert parses the numbers:

Four in ten mothers are either the sole or primary source of income for their families, a new record, according to a Pew Research Center report released on Wednesday. That figure nearly tripled since 1960.

Yet the trend is not necessarily due to women making more than their husbands. Nearly two-thirds of this group of women workers are single mothers, and just 37 percent are married and have a higher income than their spouses. While the median total family income in houses where mothers earn more than their husbands was nearly $80,000 in 2011, much higher than the national median of $57,100 for families with children, it’s just $23,000 for single mothers’ families – just over a quarter of what families with married breadwinner mothers earn.

Joan C. Williams, meanwhile, looks at the differences in the number of hours men and women work per week:

How many employed American mothers work more than 50 hours a week? Go on, guess. I’ve been asking lots of people that question lately. Most guess around 50 percent. The truth is 9 percent. Nine percent of working moms clock more than 50 hours a week during the key years of career advancement: ages 25 to 44. If we limit the sample to mothers with at least a college degree, the number rises only slightly, to 13.9 percent. …

This “long hours problem,” analyzed so insightfully by Robin Ely and Irene Padavic, is a key reason why the percentage of women in top jobs has stalled at about 14 percent, a number that has barely budged in the past decade. We can’t expect progress when the fast track that leads to top jobs requires a time commitment that excludes most mothers — and by extension, most women.

Previous Dish on female breadwinners here.

The Female Breadwinner, Ctd

Derek Thompson pores over new research on the rise of women who out-earn their husbands:

In a cool new paper, Marianne Bertrand, Jessica Pan, and Emir Kamenica pose a theory that some people might find controversial but others might find intuitive: What if there’s a deficit of marriages where the wife is the top earner because — to put things bluntly — husbands hate being out-earned by their wives, and wives hate living with husbands who resent them?

If this were true, we would expect to see at least [four] other things to be true. First, we’d expect marriages with female breadwinners to be surprisingly rare. Second, we’d expect them to produce unhappier marriages. Third, we might expect these women to cut back on hours, do more household, or make other gestures to make their husbands feel better. Fourth, we’d expect these marriages to end more in divorce. Lo and behold (as you no doubt guessed), the economists found all of those assumptions borne out by the evidence.

Regardless, Derek expects we’re nearing the end of male-breadwinner dominance:

Women are going to be the primary breadwinners in more and more families for so many reasons  — (1) the shift from brawn economy to service economy; (2) women’s growing share of college degrees; and (3) sexism softening among male-dominated industries as women establish themselves in more positions of power. A national aversion to successful wives is a really bad recipe for economic growth and family formation. Get over it, guys. It’s a woman’s world, now.

Previous Dish on female breadwinners here, here and here.

The Female Breadwinner, Ctd

Readers continue the thread:

The focus should not be on adding roles for individual women, but on the family.  Each traditional American family has a breadwinner, a caregiver and the cared for.  If we treat each of these as part-time roles then there can be splits that allow everyone to fulfill part of each role – not based on gender or age, but on ability then we can have balance. But if we look to see if any one person in the family can have 100 percent of each of these roles, the answer has to be no. A truly spectacular person might be able to be a complete breadwinner and a complete caregiver – the ’80s feminist ideal of “having it all” – but then they don’t get the caring for that they need to be whole and the family suffers. But if each parent takes on 50 percent of each role and even the kids take on some (necessary to train them to be loving, successful people) then the family can truly have it all.

Another writes:

I am a trial lawyer and mother of three, in my 30s, married to my law partner, who splits both duties with me right down the middle.  I’m just ready for everyone to get post-feminist and acknowledge fundamental truth that no one can do everything perfectly all at once, but that doesn’t make it a zero-sum game. I have both a fulfilling career and family life, and so does my husband. I made choices in my career that allowed me to be with my children as much as possible while still having a demanding career that is deeply fulfilling. I chose to be paid on a contingency-fee basis instead of hourly, so the clock didn’t rule my finances. I chose a suburban office near my home and the kids’ school instead of in downtown high rise so I could pop in for school parties and pick them up daily.

What I “give up” is similar to what Anne-Marie Slaughter gave up when she left the White House to go back to being a law professor. I’m not running for elected office or State Bar President. I have given up traveling on a weekly basis or doubling my caseload. In short, I have given up taking over the world for the time being to raise my family.

Yes, that’s something of a “sacrifice,” just as Slaughter had to “sacrifice” a plum White House job for a still-fantastic, though less glamorous legal career as a law professor. But that’s just being an adult and juggling multiple responsibilities; it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m not sure any of us should even feel disappointed about this state of affairs.

It’s easy to forget that during the height of the feminist movement in the ’60s and ’70s, women rarely went to law school and had a hard time finding employment when they did.  If the ’80s “overpromised” anything, maybe that overreach was a necessary part of the growth curve for society just to get women in the professional world. Now it’s time for everyone to be a grownup, make rational choices about what your priorities are in life, and stop whining. Maybe we need to redefine “having it all” to be something other than a childish dream of running the world and still making in home in time for cookies and afternoon cartoons, and embrace what it means to “have it all” as an adult.

I’m building a powerful, successful career and a deeply fulfilling home life.  If that isn’t having it all, I don’t know what is.

The Female Breadwinner, Ctd

A reader responds to a recent post:

Whenever I see an article (as I often do) that complains about how women can’t have both a well-cared-for family and a top-notch career, all I can think is: isn’t that because nobody can have a well-cared-for family and a top-notch career? Both are full-time jobs? There’s not enough time in a life to do two full-time jobs well. That’s why they’re called “full” time. I don’t know anybody who is raising great kids who hasn’t made significant sacrifices in their career to do so. Nobody, man or woman.

I get that feminism in the ’80s promised women that they could have the best of both. Isn’t it time we admitted that feminism was wrong? What women deserve is the freedom to make that choice. They can’t be shoved into domestic roles if they don’t want to be. That still happens far too often, and it should be stamped out wherever it can be. But this idea that women (or men) deserve both, and are somehow being cheated if they’re not getting both, is a fantasy.

Related to this thread is an unpublished email from last summer responding to the post “Can Modern Woman ‘Have It All’?”:

I am a Primary Care Physician, mother of three, bread-winner, married to an extremely supportive husband and surrounded by fantastic neighbors and friends who help enormously with my kids (Hillary was right: It takes a village). I arrived home the other day, exhausted and overwhelmed from needy patients, staffing issues, financial woes of trying to keep a struggling Primary Care office in business in this world, and found the Atlantic sitting in my mailbox. It encapsulated exactly what I have been trying to convey to friends and family for years – I cried while reading it. I have attempted to explain this to friends who stay home, friends without children, and my male counterparts for years, but Anne-Marie Slaughter so eloquently summed it up: I’m the Mom.

And that is entirely different than being the Dad – aside from just the biology – that I have the uterus and the breasts, it’s that I don’t want to be away from my children, I don’t want to miss their growing up (any of it), and I feel inordinately more guilty when things with them are going badly. When I made my choice to become a Family Doctor, I was pregnant with my first child (third year of medical school). I knew even then I wanted the shortest residency possible, the least call nights and the most flexible schedule, to be with my unborn child (and the two that came next). I didn’t want to be a surgeon or a cardiologist – this requires much longer training after med school and many more hours in practice.

And it wasn’t because my husband and family couldn’t do a great job. My husband teaches – home at 4! summers and school vacations! – so even childcare wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to be a successful specialist, expert in her field, and infinitely better paid. It wasn’t because I didn’t have the skills or the smarts. It was because: I’m the Mom. I want to be there.

I don’t want to generalize, because I think there are some men who have the same compulsion, and I think there are some women who don’t. But by and large, women just have a biologic imprint that absolutely compels them to want to be with their children. As we speak, my son is home barfing with the babysitter. My husband (again: a fantastic father, dedicated, loving, present) isn’t too worried, and will get home when he gets home. I am positively aching; I just want to go home and rub his tummy and take care of him.

The Female Breadwinner

Ann Friedman considers how even financially independent women often sacrifice their own creative potential to support a spouse:

The partner who is more aggressive, assertive, and confident has a natural edge. Often, that partner is male. He’s the one who declares he’s ready to take the leap and try to make his unrealistic creative dreams come true. The woman, who is frequently but not always more self-effacing about her abilities, agrees to play a financially supportive role.

There are real privileges associated with going first. The creative world fetishizes young entrepreneurs and auteurs. As we age, most of us become more risk-averse. And then there’s the question of children. In almost every field, there’s a significant drop-off in women’s advancement after they have children. Men do not suffer the same fate. A2010 survey of U.K. workers in fields like film, design, and media found that 42 percent of the creative workforce is female, compared with 46 percent of the workforce in the wider economy. Older women were even more underrepresented.

For Friedman, “it seems like there’s no ideal”:

You either place a great deal of trust in your partner in the short-term and rely on his income while you invest in your long-term creative goals. Or you become the breadwinner and put your dreams on hold while you fill the joint bank account. But in either scenario, it’s clear that for creatively ambitious women, independence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.