Friday, April 19, 2024
HomeLaura PerrinsLaura Perrins: The breadwinner/homemaker team can be a marriage of equals

Laura Perrins: The breadwinner/homemaker team can be a marriage of equals


Not so astonishing news just in: married couples with similar educational levels are more likely to stay together.

The geniuses at Wisconsin and Northwestern universities in the USA found that “women on an equal educational footing to their husband were about a third less likely to get divorced than those at an educational disadvantage.”

Nothing in this surprises me. I find it perfectly sensible that those on similar educational level are more likely to stay together. It means they probably have more money, which always helps. It means the couple may well have more in common with each other, which also helps. And it probably means they are that dreaded, but oft use phrase, ‘high investment parents’, which probably means they are more likely to stay together.

The story however was spun in a very different way. Interpreting their own data ‘the researchers’ tell us: “Specifically, marriages in which wives have the educational advantage were once more likely to dissolve, but this association has disappeared in more recent marriage cohorts.” In addition: “Another key finding is that the relative stability of marriages between educational equals has increased.” Fine. This all sounds sensible.

However the researcher gives us more than statistics. Lead author Professor Christine Schwartz adds: “These trends are consistent with a shift away from a breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage towards a more egalitarian model of marriage in which women’s status is less threatening to men’s gender identity.”

Em no. Your research, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph at least, does not prove this. This may be what you wanted to prove, and there may be other research analysis out there that proves this, but your research, Prof Schwartz, does not prove this. You conflate, fatally, education with income (shocking from an academic).

First there is the huge, gargantuan leap from education to income (breadwinner-homemaker model is defined entirely on who earns the money). The level of an individual’s education, be they man or woman, is not necessarily linked to income. So you could be educated to PhD level but decide to teach in a state school, in which case you will not earn the same amount as your undergraduate-level-educated bond trader.

Let’s take a not so scientific research group: myself and my husband. We are educated to the same level: undergraduate degrees in law and postgraduate degrees also in law at Cambridge. We even have the same professional educational level (barrister). However my husband is the sole breadwinner and I am the “homemaker,” in particular I care for our children as we decided together not to outsource this responsibility. It does not automatically follow that because we have the same level of education I out-earn him.

Secondly, we can see Prof Schwartz’s prejudice (not great to have in a researcher) by her setting in opposition to each other the “breadwinner-homemaker model” and the “egalitarian model of marriage”.

Happily for me, my husband, unlike Prof Schwartz, doesn’t treat me as a lesser parent, spouse or person because I am the homemaker. He views me entirely as his equal – he just happens to earn the money while I care for our children. One of the reasons I married my husband is that he does not judge people on their income, but that is a different story.

If we look at the “research”, however, because they have conflated education with income models, the fact that my husband and I remain married, due to our equal educational levels, this fact could be used against the traditional breadwinner-homemaker marriage, even though that is in fact what we are. So we have the ludicrous situation where researchers can use a traditional set up against itself, due to a subtle shift in language.

Finally, let’s look at the demise of the so-called traditional breadwinner-homemaker marriage. Its death has been repeatedly declared, but I sense this is premature as it depends entirely on how you define it. Certainly, if you define it where mothers care for their children full time, it probably is on the wane.

If you define it, however, according to who is the primary not sole breadwinner, Dads are still in the majority. In both the US and UK mothers who out-earn their partners remain a minority. In the US in only 22 percent of married couples with children under 18 are women the primary earner and in the UK only a third of mothers with a degree-level qualification earn more than their partner. So for the majority of partnerships Dads remain the primary breadwinner.

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