Commentary: The Rise Of Wives (And Husbands, Children Too)

By Ellen Foley Special to Channel 3000

In the early 1980s, a woman friend sent me a card after I got a job promotion that said, “Congratulations! You’ve now become the man you wanted to marry.”

The card had a wry quality with its New Yorker magazine-style line drawings of svelte women drinking cocktails. Those women with thin, slightly drunken smiles didn’t look as happy to me as one of my childhood heroes, the calm, cool and collected June Cleaver of the television show, “Leave it to Beaver.”

My lifelong fascination with June and the fact that I had become someone else that is allegedly not-June gave me pause when I read the title of the latest research: “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives.”

This report comes at the same time that we learn that women now outnumber men in the workforce, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. And some analysts point out that men are being harder hit by layoffs in the economic downturn, now being referred to as the “mancession.”

Just at the time when families need to pull together, we have media reports that appear to make it look like the women may be part of the job problem and not the job solution for men.

The researchers who work for the renowned Pew Research Center were not trying to start a gender war with their catchy title about “The Rise of Wives.” However, they do point out a significant increase during the past 30 years in the number of men who married women with higher salaries and more education. In 1970, a mere 4 percent of wives earned more than their husbands; in 2007, it rose to 22 percent.

When we boil it all down, some women earn more than their husbands but most of us do not. And while the Pew study shows that between 1970 to 2007 women’s pay jumped 44 percent compared with only 6 percent growth for men, women still do not have equal pay. In 2007, the researchers found that women still earned just 71 percent of a comparable male colleague.

I’m choosing not to take from this that women are winning and men are losing. Rather we all are winning. Women who lead successful lives with good incomes live longer, their children are healthier and their marriages are stronger, according to Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University.

In a recent blog Goldin reminds us that wives who have more economic opportunity also have more leverage at home, and it follows that husbands are indeed sharing more of the housework.

Goldin underscores that this is not the first time in our history that women have been more educated than men: Our grandmothers in the first half of the 1900s were more educated than their brothers but they did not have equality in job opportunities or earnings.

Women of the Baby Boom Generation coming into the workforce to forge careers and staying there to buttress family earnings in the past 30 years has almost gotten us past our grandmothers’ glass ceiling.

We have more education than men and there are more of us in the workforce than men. Now let?s root for equal pay.

Perhaps then our daughters can become the women they were meant to be rather than the men they were hoping to marry.