THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Marriage guilt: New agenda for workplace activism
Should women work or stay home? This is a baby boomer fetish.
Joan Walsh, writing at Salon, points out that we are generally sick of baby boomer women telling younger women what to do. And we're also disgusted with the baby boomer infatuation with the opt-out topic since only 4 percent of women in this country are lucky enough to have a husband who is the sole breadwinner. For the other 96 percent of us, opting out is about gut-wrenching financial decisions, not feminist platitudes.
Nevertheless, some women approach the issue of staying home with kids as if many women are considering this option; they say women who quit working and stay home with their kids decrease their earning power and put themselves at risk if there's a divorce.
We know that baby boomers divorced at a higher rate than any group in history, but today the risk of divorce is only 20 percent for college-educated women, and divorce rates are predicted to decline.
When a woman stays at home, the marriage is more likely to stay intact, and when a marriage stays intact, kids do better. So you can argue forever that a stay-at-home parent loses something by not going to work, but clearly their family gains something, so if women want to stop working for a while, fine.
The problem is when there's a divorce. Divorce doesn't just hurt stay-at-home parents who have to go back to work. It hurts breadwinners who, with child support issues, have limited career options. But most of all, divorce hurts kids.
Divorced parents routinely walk around saying their kids are better off because the parents are happier. However, there's little evidence to generally support this claim. Parents are hardly good judges of their own case since they have already made the decision and want to feel it was not selfish and terrible to do to their kids.
Here's what research supports: even amicable divorces do permanent damage to kids, yet the media ignored this evidence when it came out. Kids with divorced parents do worse in school, and this research is independent of socioeconomic status, and it gets worse if a parent remarries. Also, if you get divorced, your child is almost 50 percent more likely to get divorced.
So here's what we know for sure: Women who work have a higher chance of being divorced, and women who stay at home are vulnerable in the case of divorce.
Here's what we should do: start talking about how to keep marriages together. Making marriage last is a workplace issue because work factors play such a large role in the equation. Work needs to help us keep marriages together. Advice about work needs to focus on improving marriage rather than preparing for divorce.
This issue hits close to home to me because my marriage is under stress right now. I tell myself that no one is in love every second of their marriage. I tell myself that this is a bad time in our marriage and I'll have to work hard to make it better.
Then I think, how will I find time to do that? I have not focused on my marriage. I have focused on my kids and my career and myself.
But what about my marriage? It's a big part of the equation. I hear a lot of women saying they have a problem keeping their marriage together. And in general the group that shouts the loudest about advice for keeping a marriage intact is the Christian right.
So this is my call for a shift in discussion about women and work. Both men and women need to figure out how talk about how to make better marriages. We need to take all the energy we spend talking about the risks of stay-at-home parenting and dual-career families, and put it toward what makes a marriage strong.