Single income family?
Dual income family?
That’s more the norm in my universe, though it isn’t simple or without strain on the couple, the kids, and still – the bank balance.
So what about these conversations as to who is the breadwinner and how they manage? Does it really matter who brings in the bucks, if we assume that each partner is pursuing what he or she wants?
Of course, that’s a sizable assumption. Once kids come along, how many of us would consider that arrangement a luxury? Don’t most of us feel conflicted, regardless of gender? Don’t we make compromises when we become parents?
Breadwinners, Earnings Gaps
An Atlantic article on breadwinning women with lower earning husbands leads to some interesting conclusions. Whether or not I agree with them is another matter – validity, completeness, and interpretation of data always an issue.
That said, the discussion that follows in the comments leads to a conclusion that I do agree with, which I’ll get to momentarily though once again, few tread into the territory of work environments, social policy, and a lousy economy playing a role.
Essentially stating that women who earn more than their spouses experience less of an earnings gap over their careers, “How Some Women Benefit From Marrying a Man Who Makes Less Money” refers to a study of University of Chicago MBAs, followed over the course of a decade.
When she earns more than her husband, as in the case of the woman who does not marry and have children, the pay gap is smaller.
Check out the article to see the graph. It’s striking to see a visual that shows a woman’s earnings starting out lower than her male counterpart’s at the beginning of an MBA career, albeit marginally, and more striking as the disparity over the years widens – significantly.
What REALLY Causes the Gender Pay Gap?
Think there’s no gender gap for earnings? Think again. The picture in this case is certainly worth a thousand words – and more than a few thousand bucks.
This gender pay gap is attributed (by the article) to time off to care for children, taking a less demanding job (thus lower paying), or possibly working fewer hours. (Shall we mention that quality, affordable childcare remains a challenge, thus leaving few options to the working mother unless she has a partner with flexibility or an extended family to help?)
Reality Check Time!
Some say the gender pay gap has to do with women being less accustomed to negotiating starting salaries and pay raises. I find that to be valid. Many attribute the gender pay gap to years of reduced hours or time off entirely while raising children. That one is also hard to dispute. Women are re-entering the game from “behind,” if you will, or hovering at best – with their hands full.
But what about the reduced hours assumption? Let’s talk about that one.
MBA Hours, Professional Work Week, and Perception as Reality
Not noted in the article is something I will bring up from my own corporate experience. Working fewer hours may not mean cutting back from 40 hours/week to 20 or 25; those opportunities are few and far between.
Typical MBA careers more likely involve both men and women working 60-hour weeks (and considerably more), certainly in the first years following completion of the degree. And if you change jobs after a few years, which is certainly common? You’re proving yourself again, which generally involves many hours on the job – including networking and face time hours, even if it means drinks after the sales meeting or a round of golf with the new clients.
These women with their theoretical cutback in hours may be going from 60 or 70 hours/week to 50, or skipping the professional socializing that is expected. In my opinion, lesser visibility and perceived lesser focus may impact performance assessments and opportunities, which impact earnings.
And what if employers offered real flexibility? What would that mean?
That mention of childcare? Huge.
What if our society offered flexibility, rather than leaving it to the profits, policies, and particulars of individual employers?
What if child care options extended beyond the school day and were affordable? What if child care options extended through middle school – or until kids hit age 12? Shouldn’t we address the fact that childcare expenses don’t stop at age 5?
What if these options were available to freelancers and contractors, sometimes euphemistically referred to as “portfolio workers?” Not sure who I mean? Try this: those who may also possess credentials and experience, but find that piece-work projects and pay are the best they can do when juggling family obligations.
Do we dismiss these parenting concerns for whomever holds the primary caregiver role, in the presumptive uninterrupted focus expected on the job? Do we acknowledge the stressing and scrambling for assistance when the sitter doesn’t show or a child is sick, and we eat “vacation” days as a result?
Real Life: More Data, More Detail?
What we don’t know from the Atlantic article is a good deal. For example, missing details include:
- age and ethnicity
- number of children
- metropolitan area
- industry segments / positions of each spouse
The study referenced by the article follows couples over the course of ten years.
And the incidents of divorce and their impacts?
We know there had to be some. The data relative to earnings and childcare arrangements might prove interesting, no?
Real Life: Family Means Compromise
Still, one comment that caught my attention is this:
If you’re going to have a family, one or the other has to be willing to sacrifice their career to at least a certain extent. Which spouse does it may not particularly matter, but someone has to.
And that’s the conclusion that I would draw as well, except to say that ideally, one parent doesn’t have to live the 60 or 70-hour work week while the other puts in 40 hours. Wouldn’t it be lovely if “flexibility” were an actual option, and both could put in 30 or 35 hours?
What about working partially from a home office and not losing footing or reputation that results in fewer promotions, smaller pay raises if any, and greater likelihood of being axed in times of restructure? What about affordable access to childcare, health care, and other common sense services if you’re a contractor, freelancer, or “portfolio worker?”
Oh right. Wrong country for that…
You May Also Enjoy