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  1. Wealth
January 25, 2010

Modern Love

By Spear's

Men’s time spent caring for children has tripled – leaving a lot less time to bonk the secretary, which has to help the marriage.

“God and Man don’t believe in Modern Love,” claims David Bowie, but I tell you what: currently underemployed US divorce attorneys are certainly feeling its pinch. 

While UK divorce rates are reputedly so high in the wake of the economic crisis that court clerks cannot stamp Decrees Nisi fast enough to meet demand, the same is not true on the other side of the Pond. Americans are increasingly happy in their marriages, a groundbreaking recent study suggests.

Here, Stateside, everyone has been talking about a recent Pew Research Center study entitled “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives”, that demonstrates that in a full 22% of marriages the wife earns more than the husband. Add to this that in about another 50% of marriages the woman earns the same, and you’ve got the end result that in nearly three-quarters of American marriages, the wife earns as much or more than the husband. 

Now, overall, economy-wide women still earn less money for the same job as men, so the conclusion to be drawn from the conjunction of this data is that men are marrying up (economically-speaking) while women are marrying down. 

And marriage has not suffered the anticipated demise. Indeed, now American men are keener than ever to propose marriage and reap the economic benefits the union affords them. One could almost say American men are rushing the altar in droves, almost.

Ever since Betty Friedan urged women to leave the home and find an independent income, it has always been assumed that women viewed marriage as a type of slavery or indentured servitude: that at the first economic opportunity they’d throw off their shackles and make a run for freedom. But that hasn’t been the case.

Divorce has fallen as women have made economic gains. Evidence suggests that the shifting roles within marriage to a more egalitarian distribution where men are taking on more housework and women are earning more outside the home have had the happy effect of lowering divorce rates and making for happier unions. 

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Couples who share employment and housework responsibilities are far less likely to divorce than couples where the man is the sole breadwinner. Two prevailing interpretations amongst economists and sociologists is that financially independent women: a) can be more selective when marrying (and therefore are more likely to marry someone they love and respect and get on with, rather than merely someone they need); and b) have more negotiating power within the marriage (and are therefore less frustrated and unhappy). I have another theory: I think the greater intertwining of the roles in a marriage make it far more complicated for another person to simply slot in and replace them. 

Women of course still get the raw end of the stick. Even in dual-earner couples, the wife still does two-thirds of the housework. Still, the training of men is definitely coming along nicely: compared to the 1960s men’s contributions to housework have doubled, while their time spent caring for children has tripled – leaving, of course, a lot less time to bonk the secretary, which has to help the marriage.

But not all is well in these solid marriages: the wives may be happier, but not always so the men. While some men are worrying their wives by sitting back, relaxing and enjoying being taken care of by their rich wives, both sexes report that many men are struggling with the damage to their egos by their wealthier wives. 

The older guys struggle the most it seems, and, like all stress, the effect is felt on their bodies. For men in their 50s, having a higher-earning wife is associated with poorer health. A man who earns less than his wife is 60% less likely to be in good health than a man who earns more than his wife. 

There has not yet been a study on the growing percentage of poorer husbands supporting healthcare reform. Maybe I should suggest that one to the Pew Research Center. 

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