With 40% of households with children under 18 now supported by female breadwinners – and the corporate world doing little to acknowledge this in workplace practices–the timing could be right for a burst of women’s entrepreneurship. As the New York Times recently reported, 24% of married couples now include a wife who earns more than her husband; the other women breadwinners are single moms. The data was based on a Pew Research Center analysis of Census and polling data.
While there may have been a massive change in women’s role as earners, what hasn’t changed is that women in married couples still tackle the lion’s share of household responsibilities. Interestingly, the researchers found that when women earn more, they also tend to do more work around the house. “Gender identity considerations may lead a woman who seems threatening to her husband because she earns more than he does to engage in a larger share of home production activities, particularly household chores,” the authors wrote. Single moms obviously bear an even greater weight of household responsibilities. The upshot: Women may be earning more, but they’re squeezed from all sides by demands on their time.
As one would expect, the rise of female breadwinners hasn’t come without some turmoil. Based on what researchers in another study found, it can be hard on both members of a couple when the woman earns more than the man. That’s not surprising, given traditional societal attitudes about this. The couples with female breadwinners reported less happiness with their marriages and higher divorce rates, according to separate academic research that the Times cited.
Nonetheless, it does look like there are plenty of couples finding ways to navigate changing roles–realizing that they’re not in an earning contest, and it doesn’t really matter in the end who makes more money. They’re a team, and what’s important is working together to meet the needs of their families. Otherwise, it seems like the divorce rate would be skyrocketing.
At the same time, if the trend toward female breadwinners accelerates, we’re likely to see an exodus of the highest performing women in this group from traditional jobs into their own businesses. Many workplace cultures still operate on the assumption that whoever stays at the office the latest is the most loyal and valuable employee and don’t really evaluate people based on their productivity, no matter what blather top management spews out.
This 1950s style model works well for someone who has a full-time, stay-at-home partner to hold down the fort at home, but that doesn’t apply to many women who work, whether they are earning a middle-class or moderate income. It doesn’t really take into account men who want to see their families after work, either.
My guess is that some women breadwinners are going to realize the economic hit their families are taking when they get mommy-tracked because they can’t stay until 8 p.m.–and gravitate to the more performance-based world of entrepreneurship, where it often doesn’t matter exactly what hours you work, as long as you excel at serving your clients. Few traditional workplaces will allow women the flexibility needed to juggle it all–unless they are very high earners who can afford plenty of paid domestic help–without a serious career penalty.
If there is such an entrepreneurial boom, it may be a loss for hide-bound companies as the economy recovers and the demand for talent increases. At the same time, it could mean that we’ll see some new workplace models in the small business world that take into account how many women–whether they earn more than their husbands or not–really live.
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