Whenever we talk about the difficulty of being a woman in Biglaw, some guy (it’s almost always “some guy”) makes an unenlightened comment about how women “get” to leave early and go take care of domestic responsibilities while men “have to” stay and do work. People talk about how women will pump out children and have to take care of them while men will miss baseball games to service the client.
The obvious issue with work/life balance for women who are gunning for partner is that there are some weak-ass husbands out there. Men who want to make partner often have wives or partners at home who are happy to take care of the home front. Women who want to make partner are often on their own; their husbands have their own careers to focus on. Even if they marry men with “non-traditional” careers, few husbands want to be known as “just a house husband.”
But maybe career women don’t want house husbands? A new study suggests that a significant minority of women don’t want to work to support a man….
While 91 percent of men we surveyed said they would support their wives’ decision to stay at home, that number dropped precipitously to 70 percent of women answering the same [question]. In fact, more than one-quarter of women (26 percent) said they flat-out refuse to even entertain the notion of working full-time while supporting a husband who stays home and takes care of the kids and house. That’s compared to just 8 percent of men who said they would refuse the request of their spouse to stay at home.
Chen interprets these numbers as signals that gender roles are entrenched in our society and our sex lives:
One reason career-minded women might not want a stay-at-home spouse is that they might not find them to be very alluring. These are probably women who would never dream of being a housewife themselves, so why would they want a mate who’d opt for a lifestyle that they find limiting and boring?
That said, I think the result of the survey shows just how entrenched gender roles are. We simply haven’t evolve to the point where a house husband is considered sexy.
I think there might be a little more rational economic self-interest explaining why women are less enthusiastic than men about supporting a spouse. For one thing, men make more. I (and many liberals) say consistently that equal pay isn’t a “women’s issue,” it’s a family issue. In general, women who support their husbands are consigning themselves to a lower standard of living than men who support their wives.
Speaking of standard of living, there is also I think rational trepidation that men are actually willing to do the job of a stay-at-home spouse. It’s not sitting on the couch playing Call of Duty until she comes home with McDonald’s. I’ve met “house husbands” of Biglaw women who call themselves artists, musicians, inventors, entrepreneurs, and writers (ahem). I’ve met house husbands who are “between jobs.” I haven’t met a whole lot of house husbands who are just there to keep house and take care of children.
Keeping house and taking care of children is, of course, how a house husband contributes to the economic viability of the family unit. But imagine the family still hires a cleaning lady ’cause the husband doesn’t dust, the family still orders in ’cause the husband doesn’t cook, and the family still needs to hire a babysitter so the husband can go to his “gigs.” Then the wife doesn’t have a “house husband,” she’s got some loser who doesn’t make any money.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are a lot of women who don’t want to go to work every day while their man stays home, does the laundry, and puts a roast in the oven. But there are a lot of men who don’t want their wives to do that either. The survey says 91 percent of men “would support” their wives decision to stay home, but there aren’t 91 percent of men who can actually stand up to the pressure of providing for a family every day. Everybody wants to be Don Draper, most people are Duck Phillips.
I bet the real numbers are something like this: 10 percent of people want to take care of work every day, 10 percent of people want to take care of the house, and 80 percent of people just want somebody to take care of them.