Now they have both or nearly so. The report by the Pew Research Center identifies a fundamental reconfiguration of marriage: As a consequence of increased education and greater access to high-paying jobs, wives are more likely than ever before to earn more and to be better educated than their husbands. The increased percentage of wives who outearn their husbands signals the advent of more egalitarian marriages, a development that we should applaud.
But if the experience of African Americans is any guide, the shifting relative status of men and women may also portend a threat to the stability and centrality of marriage in American society. The lingering discomfort among the couple, friends or family with role reversal marriages is not the only or even primary difficulty in such relationships. As I have discovered in the course of research for my forthcoming book, dramatic disparities in earnings and education often signify differences in values, a divide that is deeper and more intractable than any rift created simply by the fact that her paycheck is bigger than his.
Among African Americans, the group most likely to have role reversal marriages, such relationships often are conflict-ridden and more likely to end in divorce than marriages where the partners are more economically and educationally compatible. That role reversal marriages among African Americans have not worked is reflected, in part, in the fact that black married couples across the socioeconomic spectrum are more likely to divorce, by far, than any other group. The Pew report identifies another consequence of the economic and educational ascendance of women relative to men: the decline in marriage.
This change too is more stark among African Americans. While white Americans are much less likely to be married now than in , what is most striking is that black women are only half as likely as white women to be married. The African American marriage decline is not limited to the poor or economically marginal.
Middle class black women are more unmarried than at any time since slavery and, as a result, have fewer children than any other group of women in our society. Black men too, including those who are the best educated and most financially secure, are more likely than ever to be unmarried. The causes of these shifts are complicated, and their consequences for African Americans far-reaching. They also highlight a question that implicates us all: whether marriage will remain a bedrock social institution or whether African Americans are the canary in the coal mine heralding not just the reconfiguration but the re-evaluation of marriage itself, the slow withering away of what we have always assumed to be a universal institution.
Andrew J. Cherlin is professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. As with any major change, it will take some time for Americans to adjust to the growth of marriages in which wives out-earn their husbands. Initially, we will see some husbands with bruised egos, some wives who are anxious about their new status, and some marriages that cannot survive the reversal of roles. But the adjustment is likely to be easier and quicker than you might think.
First, the most unusual division of work between husbands and wives is not what is emerging today but rather what we celebrated in the s. In earlier times, when most people lived on farms, both the wife and husband did many kinds of important work. Men knew that they could not lead a good life without a woman who shared the hard work. That kind of family was fully accepted until the midth century, and there is no reason to think it will be rejected now.
Alpha Wives: The Trend and the Truth
Second, the new stereotype of marriages in which the wife earns more than the husband — think of a hard-charging female corporate vice president married to a mildly successful office manager — is inaccurate. The Pew Center report released on Jan. The typical case is more likely to be a female home health-care aide married to an intermittently employed construction worker. Both spouses will be at the mercy of an unreliable job market.
The result will be marriages in which wives and husbands share decision-making power rather than ones in which wives dominate. To be sure, our marriage culture needs to catch up to this change, but most men will eventually adapt to families in which father and mother jointly know best.
Janet Reibstein is a professor of psychology at the University of Exeter in Britain. Her research and clinical work specializes in couples. But in the United States, Europe and the rest of the developed word, fewer such men are developing in tandem with them. Our now dominant model of marriage makes a priority of friendship, intimacy and a more equal exchange of domestic labor and, crucially, respect.
I Don’t Want to Get Divorced but My Spouse Does!
Respect for each other easily flows when these things roughly match. The reasons women who can be self-supporting might choose to be in a heterosexual relationship have changed from those of two generations ago: they want companionship, intimacy, and reliable support for the joint enterprise of living together. A major sticking point arises when there are unequal sources of respect. Great differences within a couple in levels of education, social status, or income, for instance, thus pose problems.
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Additionally, men and women — even today — derive status and prestige differently. Today women can get it from jobs and also from being good mothers, being attractive, running efficient homes. As the powerful woman becomes more common, she may be alluring to some men, but to other men this is a problem if it leads to an inequality of respect.
Indeed, the decline in the number of marriages in some countries, the still high number of divorces, and the acceptability of serial cohabitations and singlehood to a lesser extent, as both sexes still wish for committed relationships have arisen in part because these can seem better choices for some women than picking men for whom respect will erode. For couples in which the woman is the successful bread-winner, it is important to develop alternative sources of respect. The man who stays at home may be prized, for instance, if he has unusual powers and talents of empathy, a culturally valued quality.
The shift poses a larger question: can we make the next cultural shift demanded by the effects of feminism? Can we now value in men what we also value in women? Every few years, a report reminds us that conventional wisdom is wrong. Like water drawing back to reveal the shore before a tidal wave hits, uncertain economic times have made more visible what has been building for years.
While this sometimes happens, such a scenario underestimates the resilience and flexibility of women and men alike. New economic realities may be one factor driving changes in intimate relationships, but another is the strong and growing desire among new generations for equality and balance in marriage. Countless studies, including my own, find that most young people, regardless of gender, race, or the kind of family in which they grew up, support working mothers, want to balance work and caretaking, and hope to create an enduring egalitarian relationship.
Young women are more determined than ever to build careers and self-reliant lives, and young men now look to women to share in the financial responsibilities of family life, but everyone worries that dwindling job opportunities, time-greedy workplaces, and a dearth of child-rearing supports will put these goals out of reach.
Despite the obstacles, we can take heart in knowing that gender equality and family well-being are not in conflict. In a world where families increasingly depend on the earnings of women, the best way to promote family cohesion and satisfying marital relationships is to jettison outdated ideas about rigid gender differences and create the social supports that will allow new generations to bridge the work-family divide. If we fail to help women and men create shared lives that integrate family and work in a flexible, egalitarian way, our worst fears may be realized.
This transparency will open the door to better growth within our lives and that of others. KW Being Transparent Cover. Church of the Nazarene. He graduated from Nazarene Theological Seminary in We are very excited about the opportunities to serve our community. This book provides spiritual insight and practical strategies to women who are the primary breadwinners in their families. Susan M. Sims is a stay-at-home mom of three children: Elizabeth, Erica, and David. She is happily married to her husband of sixteen years, Brian.
Her desire is for all to understand the importance of being transparent as they continually grow deeper in their relationship with God and others. It is available through Amazon. Her blog is www. His work uses human saliva as a source of salivary antibodies against waterborne, foodborne, and airborne pathogens. Augustine, Fla.
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