Humans being what they are, a woman who wants to achieve the greatest career success would do best to marry an underachiever. If she has children, that is. Studies show that women who marry high-achieving men are more likely to choose their children over career success.
It might be the case, Allison Schrager explains, that wives of low-earning men need to work more to support their families. Or it might be that especially ambitious women need to marry men who will take second place to their careers.
Either way, nothing about this is especially surprising, except the fact that anyone would be surprised. In truth, those who proclaimed that women could never be happy unless they were fully engaged in successful careers seem to have ,misjudged.
Schrager explains it all:
What modern women may not realize is that a husband with more marginal employment can increase the wife’s own earnings. That’s one way to read a study tracking the careers of 629 University of Chicago MBAs(PDF) over 16 years. After controlling for different skills, occupations, and children, the study’s authors found that the income of women in the sample was strongly related to their husband’s income. Those who married high-earning men (defined as having an income of more than $200,000 a year) earned much less themselves and were less likely to work once they had children. If the women MBAs did work, it was often part-time or in less high-powered careers. Women who married “lower earners” (in this rarefied population, a low-earning spouse had income of less than $100,000) made the same as their male MBA peers.
This was the case only if the marriage produced children; childless women earned more when they married a rich man. And it’s not clear exactly what caused this result among the MBAs with children. It could be that women with lower-earning spouses needed to work more to support their growing families. Or perhaps they had big career ambitions and chose a less-ambitious partner to support their success. A marginally employed spouse is likely to have more flexibility to move for his partner’s career and provide child care. These, it’s worth noting, are the same marital trade-offs that have benefited ambitious men for years.
Surely, it is good that women have more opportunities. It is good that they have the freedom to choose between home and marketplace.
And yet, the traditional division of labor still pertains. Only now, we have more role reversal marriages. It remains to be seen whether women find these situations satisfying, whether they are pleased to leave their children at home with their husbands while going out to support their families.
For all I know, it might be one of those “be careful what you wish for” situations.