In 2006, Michael Noer, executive editor of Forbes magazine, wrote an article entitled “Don’t Marry a Career Woman.” The gist of the article was that men are unhappier in marriages in which the women earn more than $30,000 a year, as opposed to marriages in which the women work less. Not surprisingly, Noer was vilified for daring to point out social science research and empirical evidence that suggests “career women” (defined as women who work more than thirty-five hours a week) are “more likely to divorce, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, are more likely to be unhappy about it.”
Due to the furor among readers and bloggers who read Noer’s piece, the article was taken down off the Internet (but republished hours later with a counterpoint piece entitled “Don’t Marry a Lazy Man,” by Elizabeth Corcoran, another Forbes editor). In the end, Steve Forbes, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, was forced to issue a public apology for Noer’s piece.
The cultural message is clear: Never even allude to the differences between men and women or dare suggest that a wife’s choice to pursue a full-time career could in any way impinge upon her marital happiness. Even if it were true that men are unhappy when their wives work so much, the collective response seems to be, “Too bad. Get another husband.”
If only it were that simple.
Consider, for a moment, the following women: Oprah, Condoleeza Rice, Martha Stewart, Diane Sawyer, Judith Regan (publishing giant), and Barbara Walters. These women are all highly successful; they are also single, divorced, or childless. Even the two who are mothers have only one child. These women are textbook examples of Noer’s argument. The truth is, the more successful a woman is in the marketplace, the less successful she will be at home.
This is an inconvenient truth, to be sure; but the reason isn’t what people think. It’s not that men can’t handle strong women, as feminists would have you believe. The issue is time—and human nature. Marriages in which both partners work full-time have little time to devote to one another, particularly if they have children. The travel, long commutes, sleep deprivation, household neglect, and needs of their children take up the bulk of non-working hours. Moreover, these marriages are less complementary and more competitive than traditional marriages—which doesn’t bode well for intimacy. Modern men may like ambitious women, but they don’t want to compete with them. (For deeper analysis of this issue, I suggest you pick up a copy of The Surrendered Wife. But first you have to get over the title.)
None of this means that if you’re a wife who makes over $35,000 a year your marriage is doomed; many factors contribute to a stable marriage. But you may have a greater challenge. Marriage is work, and if two people are absent from home most of the time, other things get neglected. As I point out in my own book, 7 Myths of Working Mothers, “If two people are trying to raise children, bring home a paycheck, take out the trash, pay the bills, mow the lawn, paint the shutters, fix the leaky faucet, cook the meals, clean the dishes, go to Target, do the laundry, pick up the dry cleaning, go to Home Depot, shop for clothes, go to the doctor, return phone calls, do the grocery shopping, and go to the gym, they are going to be in overload.” In a lifestyle such as this, marriage inevitably takes a back seat.
In addition to the time factor, we have Mother Nature to contend with; and we all know how stubborn she can be. No matter how much we wish it weren’t true, the fact is men like to take care of women—and women like to be taken care of. Money and housekeeping—in no particular order—is part of this equation. As Noer writes, “Marrying [ambitious] women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy. They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do. You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do. You will be more likely to fall ill. Even your house will be dirtier.” Noer backs up his arguments with solid research; he didn’t just make this stuff up.
Of course that didn’t stop people from killing the messenger, a common tactic people use when they don’t like the message. But Noer’s message wasn’t that dual-career couples are inevitably headed for disaster; he simply points out that they have a much harder hill to climb. When you’re married, money is never about money. Money is inextricably linked to the intangibles that make up a marriage: power, trust, and control. Unfortunately, this is lost on the modern generation, who try to make marriage akin to being roommates.
If only it were that easy.