Mom, Dad and Money
There has been a lot of buzz lately about the latest Pew Research Center results on men, women, and earnings. The big news is that the number of heterosexual couples in which the woman outearns the man has leapt from a mere 4% in 1970 to 22% in 2007. Historically, this is big news. Sure, a full 78% of these households still boast a male breadwinner with a bigger paycheck, but a sea change seems to be upon us.
The real impact of this change is in our definition of what it means to be a man. Forever, it seems, men's identities and worth have been tied up in their ability to provide for their families - and secondarily in their career success in general. The Pew data suggest that we'd better start thinking otherwise.
The news has been greeted with mixed reviews. One complaint comes from men who aren't quite ready to broaden their horizons - those who feel emasculated by partnering with a woman who earns more rather than either nonplussed, happy to be relieved of their age-old burden to chase a paycheck above all else, or eager to embrace all of the other things beyond career-building that make up a life well led. Another whine rises from those who would rather not deal with the difficulty of change - wanting, instead, to make relationships nice and simple...by turning them into purely role-based agreements (big yuck). Then, there's the "us vs them" discussions. These take the form of "the person who makes the most money gets the most power in the relationship" or "finally, women are putting men in their place" or "make room for the alpha wives."
Both of these thought lines are rather shallow, don't you think?
The ESP take might go something like this: Hold on, everyone! We're coming to that moment we've all been waiting for, when gender doesn't dictate a specific role in the family. When men and women are free to define their relationship and their family by what works best for them, rather than by what society says makes a successful man or woman. When both partners get equal access to the joys of each aspect of their lives - the joy of maintaining a career and providing for the family, the joy of everyday intimacy with the children, the joy of caring for the home and of taking care of themselves as individuals. Of course, we know we can have all of this now - by bucking tradition and setting up ESP lives instead. But when women and men have equivalent chances at earning enough to provide, and when caregiving is valued as much as working for pay, the rest of the world might rise up to meet us.
Let's not make these data about men vs women, or about battered egos. This is gender equality, and it's about freedom, my friends - for all of us.