Pressures of life force married women out of careers

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Modern marriages in which both partners work are still falling into the traditional breadwinner and housewife roles of the 1950s, new research shows, because even those without children cannot cope with two time-consuming careers.

Modern marriages in which both partners work are still falling into the traditional breadwinner and housewife roles of the 1950s, new research shows, because even those without children cannot cope with two time-consuming careers.

The study, published in the journal Social Problems, shows that for the most working couples the husband's career gets priority, as couples realise they cannot have a reasonable quality of life with two careers.

Researchers from Cornell University in New York,who did the study, said that the new "neotraditional" model of marriage helps couples to "have a life" in a world in which the organisation of work and family presumes thatemployees have no other responsibilities.

Phyllis Moen, director of Cornell University's Employment and Family Careers Institute, said that working couples did not have many options because of outdated employment policies and practices that were based on career patterns established early in the 20th century. They were then caught in a vicious circle as wives cut back at work so that the couple could cope with other demands, she said. That short-term solution left women with long-term problems injob security and career advancement.

"Contemporary working couples are traversing an uncharted terrain, changing both the composition of the workforce and the division of family labour," Professor Moen said. "However, with few institutional mechanisms to help dual-earner couples manage their joint work and domestic responsibilities, typical couples choose strategies that free the wives to do most of the domestic work, including any child and elder care."

The researchers, who analysed interviews and data from 850 dual-career couples, found that contemporary couples typically had egalitarian values but found themselves playing far more traditional roles than either wanted orexpected.

Unlike middle-class couples in the 1950s, genders were differentiated not by whether couples work outside the home but by how much they worked, Professor Moen said.

The findings showed that contemporary couples did not want to work the long hours expected of them but the absence of realistic options for building a life around shared work and family responsibilities forced them into it.

"Both opportunities and costs come prepackaged in ways that force choices of sets of arrangements," Professor Moen said.

The researchers found that the most successful relationships were those in "newmillennium" marriages, in which both spouses put in about the same amount of time on their jobs - 39 to 45 hours a week. "Still, only about 24 per cent of workers in dual-earner couples follow this strategy because career paths still presume one career per couple," she said.

The findings showed that women in dual-earner households tended to report that their husbands' jobs were more important than theirs, and reported more stress and overload, as well as less control of their lives than did men in such couples. Quality of life was lower for both men and women in dual-earner households who had demanding jobs.

Cathy Hambly, a 35-year-old nurse from Oxfordshire, is married to a consultant anaesthetist, Peter, and has three children, Jessica, 9, Toby, 7, and Edward, 4. She stopped nursing nine years ago when it became too difficult to keep two careers going. "It was a conscious choice for me to step aside for a while," she said. "Some people manage it, but because of Peter's hours I could not rely on him to pick the children up or be there so I could go to work. We decided to have unity and wanted to keep the home fires burning comfortably so I looked for a different sort of employment."

Mrs Hambly now works at the local school as a secretary, which means her hours fit in much better with the children and she is free during the school holidays.

"We both believe in gender equality and dividing up household chores - Peter does all the cooking and the shopping - but it is just too difficult for both of us to work long hours and impossible to manage two careers. It's not fair on us or the children," she said.

Comments