Women are becoming wealthier (but not wiser)

A marriage is far more likely to last if there is only one major bread-winner in the family
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The Independent Online

You read it in this newspaper yesterday so it must be true. In 20 years' time, two thirds of Britain's wealth will be in the hands of women, not simply because we live longer and therefore end up inheriting everything including the family house, but also because we're infinitely more employable. So should we women be cheering or wondering where it all went wrong? Because if making more money and having more buying power than men is what we've been aiming for ever since we embraced women's liberation, equal rights, Germaine Greer and the pill, it does seem as though something has gone seriously wrong. Let's begin with the facts.

You read it in this newspaper yesterday so it must be true. In 20 years' time, two thirds of Britain's wealth will be in the hands of women, not simply because we live longer and therefore end up inheriting everything including the family house, but also because we're infinitely more employable. So should we women be cheering or wondering where it all went wrong? Because if making more money and having more buying power than men is what we've been aiming for ever since we embraced women's liberation, equal rights, Germaine Greer and the pill, it does seem as though something has gone seriously wrong. Let's begin with the facts.

Far be it from me to doubt the findings of the Centre for Economic and Business Research, whose tireless minions, doubtless female, have worked all this out. But what makes them think it will take 20 years for us to achieve financial domination? Most of the working women I know now earn far more than their husbands/lovers. No, I did not say partners, because apart from disliking the use of such a dull word to describe the person you share a bed with, it would in this context be confusing.

Many of these high-flying women I'm talking about employ their husbands/lovers but not, I'm afraid, as business partners. Far from it. The one who runs a phenomenally successful recruitment agency in the City has her otherwise unemployed mate in the office two days a week to update the files. The one that designs jewellery employs hers as a sort of in-house courier. He packs up the latest design samples in padded envelopes and either posts them off to clients or delivers them himself. My friend Moira who breeds racehorses in Ireland used to ask her live-in boyfriend, if he was up, to book appointments with the farrier, but ever since he used the wrong diary she's returned to doing it herself, leaving him to make the lunch. If he's up.

It cannot, I'm sure, be a coincidence that pretty much all the high-achieving, high-earning men I know are married to non-working wives, what used to be called Ladies of Leisure.

"Leisure, you must be kidding," said Emily, whose husband, recently knighted, is chairman and chief executive of a multinational corporation. Emily does work; she just doesn't get paid. She sits on more fundraising committees than I have fingers to count with, and spends her waking hours organising venues for charity balls or persuading celebrities to donate their underwear to charity auctions. The operative word here is "married". The majority of the high-achieving women executives I know are not. They either never have been or they are divorced, their husbands having long since moved in with a simple undemanding girl who positively longs to devote her entire day to planning his evening meal and her entire night to conceiving his children.

Despite everything we hear these days about the necessity for both husbands and wife to work to make ends meet, a marriage in my experience is far more likely to last if there is only one major breadwinner in the family. Fifty years ago it was the man. Twenty years on, if you read between the lines of that Centre for Economic and Business Research report, it will be the women.

Why any of this should come as a surprise is a mystery. Women have always been more capable, more practical, more flexible, more given to multi-tasking than men and if all the real jobs like at Rover have gone by the board, leaving only service jobs available, is it any wonder we're going to be the ones in work?

Twenty years ago househusbands were a novelty. They were also extremely hard working: school run, housework, shopping, cooking. But that was when women were sufficiently un-liberated to want old-fashioned things like kids as well as jobs. Now they just want the job and a relationship, preferably live in. Enter a new domestic species, the househusband and his muse.

While their partners are out there clawing at the commercial coal face, they sit at home writing novels, composing music, painting pictures which never get published, played or exhibited, but just give them time and wham they're going to hit the jackpot. A friend's son has just finished his ninth unpublished novel which his Vietnamese banker wife knows will win next year's Booker Prize. In the meantime she's happy to support him and his unrecognised talent. Women may be getting richer but they ain't getting smarter.

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