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Marriage and the Professional Woman

Marriage and the Professional Woman

Recent studies suggest professional women are less happy in their marriage and more likely to divorce. Don't take the wrong lesson.


I read and reread the recent forum on careers and marriage on Editor Michael Noer cites many studies suggesting that professional women are less happy in their marriages and more likely to get divorced. He then goes on to list some of the typical issues that arise: women are unhappy if they make more money than their spouses, men are unhappy if their wives earn more than they do, without labor specialization, the house is a mess and the kids aren't bathed. And so on. Needless to say, this news was not greeted with joy by the legions of career women. One of his colleagues, Elizabeth Corcoran, a happily married career woman, wrote an impassioned response.

The problem with most statistics (including those cited in the phenomenally popular ‘Freakonomics') is that they usually suggest correlation and are mistakenly read to suggest causation.

So while there is definitely some connection between successful career women and divorce, the causes of this lack of marital success are only speculation.

In paradoxical fashion, although a more traditional view of marriage (i.e. a division of labor that gives the female primary responsibility for the home but certainly does not preclude her from having a career) is a Jewish value, it is Ms. Corcoran who makes the argument most consistent with Torah.

She seems to advocate two important components to a successful marriage.

It's not the income; it's the lack of growth and action.

One is constant growth. If a woman earns more than her husband but her husband is engaged in a meaningful occupation or he's involved in learning and grappling with new ideas and stimulating hobbies, then the actual financial difference will probably be irrelevant. But if, in the most extreme case, the woman is supporting the family while her mate is a house husband and she comes home to find the house a mess and her beloved spouse asleep in from of the blaring TV, a large pile of empty beer bottles beside him, their marriage may be threatened.

It's not the income; it's the lack of growth and action.

And it works both ways. If a stay-at-home mom is involved in activities with the children, cooking for the family and projects for the community -- great. But if her husband comes home to find her curled up in from of the tube watching soaps and eating chocolates (does anyone really do that?!), he is also likely to feel frustrated.

Our obligation to ourselves and to our spouses is to be constantly thinking and growing. If we stagnate we are doing ourselves and our marriages a disservice.

The other element is compromise. Of course you need some division of labor. It's practical and efficient. In general, this is best done along skill set lines. Everyone should lead with their strengths. The organized spouse pays the bills. The adventurer plans the vacations. They both cook dinners. As marriage counselors repeat constantly, "It's not a competition. It's not about keeping score."

The key is in the language and perspective. Is it my marriage or is it our marriage? If it's my marriage, then I'm resentful that I'm earning the money and you're spending it. If it's our marriage, then it's for the two of us.

If it's my marriage, then I'm resentful that I have to make dinner. If it's our marriage, I'm happy to do a kindness for you that actually benefits both of us.

If it's my marriage, I may even feel frustrated to spend all my time watching your children. But our children? We're happy to provide for their needs together.

A healthy marriage requires that the success of the marital relationship be of primary importance, that 'we' supersede the "I". And it requires growth and stimulation and action to keep the marriage alive. While the commitment may be forever, making the joy also forever requires you to work at it. That includes keeping our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual selves attractive. A tall order? We're battling the statistics, the pundits, the trends, human nature. But we have the tools to do it. (And it doesn't hurt to ask the Almighty for help --you want to pull out all the big guns.)

So go ahead -- earn more money than your spouse. Then use it to do something wonderful for the two of you.

October 2, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Joe, October 12, 2006 11:31 AM


Thank you.

It is easy to get the wrong impression of the Jewish view of this. That wrong impression has been a strain on my personal life. Both me and my beloved are theoretical physicists in the process of becoming more observant.

The notion of shared responsibilty coupled with mutual support of goals (that includes both child care and career goals) is the obvious only practical answer.
Unfortunately, we have encountered rabbaim who just don't seem to get that her potential contributions to the world are much larger than the constraints that they would impose on her.

(6) Annette, October 5, 2006 7:04 AM

Marriage and more

So well put. I like to think 'it's about who GETS to do kindess AGAIN'; money in the hands of good people does good things!
Reading this article was a needed uplift. Thanks Emuna.

(5) MasortiVisitor, October 3, 2006 9:37 PM

Thank you for bringing clarity without dumbing it down!

Thank you for this nice (and challenging) combination of good science and caring commentary... Your "I" to "we" reminder is simple enough to remember easily without being reductionistic. I live on a different coast and very different level of observance, and I really enjoy getting to study with you on-line.

WIshing you, your family, and all the Aish writers and readers a shana tova u'metukah!

(4) GrethchenSerota.M.D., October 3, 2006 6:34 PM

Down to earth, informative, and funny!

Loved it!. I've been the breadwinner for 22 years and we usually joke about it, despite a few comments by friends and relatives! I am a physician in private practice and my husband has an academic job in theoretical physics. No regrests. We managed to have three wonderful children at a late age. Despite disparate incomes, I cound not do without his skills - such as setting up my office computers and driving the kids to school.

So what's so funny about your article - I do know ladies that eat chocolates and watch soaps in the afternoon, while their kids are cared for by nannies and husbands hard at work.

Shared responsibility is the key!

(3) rockape, October 3, 2006 11:05 AM

Love ya

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