Recession gives women more bargaining power in marriages
This recession has had an effect on many aspects of our lives. Many of us have changed how much we spend on restaurant food, the amount of unnecessary clothes we buy, the number of miles we drive alone or the number of manicures and haircuts we get.
But for many married couples, the change has been more fundamental: The uncomfortable reversal of traditional gender roles has accelerated.
We know that men held about 75 percent of the jobs that were lost during the recession. This means that, in comparison to the past, more women became the primary breadwinners for households across the nation.
This recent phenomenon has worked to change the paradigm of the distribution of labor within a household: While more women are working and supporting the family financially, more men are staying at home cleaning, cooking and taking care of the children.
The New York Times pointed out last week that “in nearly a third of marriages — the woman is better educated than the man. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.”
For decades, women have pondered the now-inevitable question: Does a woman’s financial gain, and with it, independence, mean the loss of a happy marriage?
I think most can agree that a strong and independent woman seems scary to many men, and while the opposite can be true, men are seldom the victims of their own strong personalities.
A female fashion stylist featured in another New York Times article was given this advice by her male best friend: “You are confident, have good credit, own your own business, travel around the world and are self-sufficient. What man is going to want you?”
As much as we would like for this to not be true, even in today’s more equitable world, a confident and outspoken man is still more welcomed than a confident and outspoken woman — at work, in social settings and in the home.
Religion and society both tell us that men and women have different places in the household. And now that that’s changing, more women are becoming victimized due to the reversal of roles. Even if they win the bread, but they cannot act or feel like the breadwinner if they want their marriage to survive.
Of course, there are exceptions where a man wholeheartedly accepts his new role in the home, but these cases are just that — exceptions, not the norm.
Most men, even if they won’t say it out loud, prefer a marriage in which they are the primary breadwinners and the woman is a traditional caregiver even if she works.
But of course, the struggle that comes from adjusting into new roles can also come from the female in the relationship.
Many women find it hard to let go of their urge to control the cooking, cleaning and care-giving. Perhaps it is because of this, women still do about two-thirds of all the work around the house on average.
But not all is bad: “The shift [in gender roles] has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages… have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.”
Traditionally, we believe that a woman’s financial independence increases the risk of divorce, but a recent Pew Research study shows that while marriage rates are lower, divorce rates have also lowered as women have become more financially independent.
The divorce rate in the 1970s was 2.3 percent, but it is now about 1.7 percent. Recent studies show that women with more education and more economic independence are more likely to stay married. And divorce rates are higher in states where women have fewer paid jobs.
This could be because as women earn more bargaining power in deciding who they want to marry, marriages become more equitable to both genders.
Through this recession, more couples are finding a new symbiotic dependence and many are slowly adjusting to their new social roles.
But still, considering the historic oppression and worldwide subordination of women, we must ponder these important questions: Are there changes in numbers because women have actually gained more respect in society and men have learned to adapt in a reversed marriage like good Darwinian creatures? Or is this paradigm shift a temporary stage like the recession in the business cycle?
Will the traditional model of a marriage once again become the only way to have a happy marriage when the recession goes away and men find higher paying jobs again?