Why should women work after the wedding?

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On Twitter this morning, a friend posted about a family member who has decided to drop out of school because her future husband will be making enough money for the both of them, and she needn’t work. This set me off, of course, and I felt I should write this post about my feelings on the “My husband makes enough money for the both of us” mentality.

Of course, I think women should work, or at least keep up job skills that would allow them to enter the workforce when needed. I also think men should too, but it’s more often than not the woman who is considered optional for the job force. Hell, I once heard on a train in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Her husband makes enough money for the both of them, I don’t understand why she would work!” It was all I could do to keep from starting up an argument with the lot of those clearly-tech-working-MALES. But I also realized they’d just never get it.

I’d like to approach a lot of different reasons for why people in general should keep up job skills, and also why the belief that women should stay at home over men is really a dangerous perception.

* Women are not always the nurturing parent.

I put this first, to show why I will approach some of these topics as “people” rather than “the woman”. I know many fully functioning couples where the man is far more nurturing than the woman, and is happy to be the one to stay at home to take care of the kids. Further, in cases of same-sex parenting, there is no way for one gender to be pigeon-holed into being the one to stay at home.

* Women, in cases of divorce from a divergent-sex marriage, are usually the ones to get the kids.

The vast majority of the time in a divorce with kids situation (over 80%?), the mother retains the majority of the custody of the children in the case of a divorce. So what does she do if she has no job and no skills to get a job? Well, there is, of course, alimony and child support, but these are a fraction of the income that once sustained the whole family. Realize that now that the household is separated, the income is now spread between two houses, which means that where it was possible to save money by joint households before (the same house, the same meals, the same necessities like cleaning supplies, the same conveniences like kitchen appliances or TVs, etc), this is now doubled by both households. It might also mean duplicated toys and clothes if the kids spend part-time at dad’s house (which they usually do). So now you have an income split in half to start with, and generally you get a fraction of even that for the costs… and you have to use this fraction of the income for the full house. Think on that for a moment and you realize that this ends up with the woman in dire straights financially.

Too often I have seen friends who thought they should stay home to raise the kids instead of keeping up work skills find themselves now on Welfare, struggling to survive, going from gorgeous mansion-sized 5-bedroom houses to living in the near-projects, even though their husband still makes a nice income and they get child support/alimony. And they are still raising the kids, trying to make do. You don’t want to end up in this situation, trust me.

* But my spouse loves me, we’re never getting divorced!

10 years from now, you’ll be long past that initial thrill of romance, you’ll be frazzled all of the time from your kids, and your spouse will be frazzled all of the time from work. You have no idea how this will play out at this point, because those things will change you. With luck, you’ll change together and stay happy together, but the statistics show that this is unlikely.

* But really, this is TRUE LOVE.

OK, fine, perhaps it is. But what if your spouse loses their job? What if your spouse suffers a disastrous accident and loses the ability to work? What if they die? Yes, there are insurance policies for this, but again, it’ll be on a vastly reduced income. Shouldn’t you be part of the backup plan? Isn’t that what marriage is, a partnership? Shouldn’t you be the partner to pick up the pieces? Which brings me to my next point…

* Marriage is a partnership

Marriage is a partnership. In olden days (say Jane Austen’s time), the woman worked with the husband on his farm/store, and if he suffered problems or died, she was the one to take over. These days that is not the norm, and really, if an office worker dies, generally their spouse isn’t equipped to take over their job. But we should really have kept the idea that the household finances are a shared burden, and should be a shared responsibility to take on if one of the partners is incapacitated. In other words, if your husband (or wife) can’t work, go to work yourself.

Understand that I am not against a parent staying at home to raise kids. Parents who stay home to raise the kids are of course contributing to the relationship in a very important way, but they should keep up skills that retain a work-ready status while they’re doing so. Freelancing is a wonderful option that keeps the resume updated (my mother did this), as does charity work. And both of these options can be achieved in flexible time that allows the stay-at-home parent to be at home for their kids when needed. Bonus: my mom was able to go back to work on a contract basis for a short time when my parents needed to raise money for a down payment for a new house.

Having a sense of self-sufficiency lends one to be a stronger person.

I can’t prove this, but I know it’s been true in my case: If I’m working, I feel better about myself. As long as I know I can work and provide for myself, I feel like I’ve made a solid contribution to society, and I have a real sense of self independent of my spouse.

But moreover, I honestly think the stereotypically female traits are because of women having to to be dependent on their husbands for so long. Women are passive-aggressive… because if they said, “Hey, I need to be able to do thus and such” and the husband objected, well, he’s got the money. Women use sex as a manipulation tool.. because what else were they given to use? Women spend all of the man’s money… because they have to to run the house. As women become more and more independent financially, these traits will no longer be all women, but just some people.

* If one spouse is super dependent on the other, it can enable abuse.

Seriously, this is the part that concerns me the most about the mentality that women shouldn’t work if the man makes enough money. No, women should be able to be self-sufficient, or self-sufficient capable, or they could end up incredibly dependent on a relationship where they are under abuse, or at the least, under duress. I have friends who find themselves in terrible situations with their husbands — perhaps they’re not beating the woman, but they might be emotionally abusive, or cheaters, or just neglectful — but can’t leave because they would be homeless or near-homeless with kids in tow (or dogs/cats in a couple cases). So they put up with it. It tears my heart out to watch.

So many more reasons…

I could go on, but I think the above points are my main concerns. And really, aren’t they enough to scare you into making sure you stay work-ready? If not, your sense of survival is much less than mine.

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3 thoughts on “Why should women work after the wedding?

  1. Your arguments are substantive. I would add that, given appropriate childcare, a woman can glean some perks from working away from home that you did not mention, i.e. supportive friendships, intellectual rewards from skilled productivity in the workplace, in some cases a preferable company insurance plan and, generally the sense that she is not just somebody’s mom but a fully functional member of the community. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve absolutely nothing against being just somebody’s mom but for some women this can be not so rewarding as it is an overwhelming burden, with no energy left for community activity. For the sakes of all members of that family, it may be better if mom does work outside the home.

  2. Well put, Gwen. Two good friends of mine recently made the decision that one of them was going to stay at home with the kids and they sat down and ran the pros and cons to determine which one it would be. It happened to be the wife, but to tell you the truth, I think the husband was a little disappointed about that. But even then, she still stays busy doing crafty things out of the house while being a homemaker, too.

  3. I agree with all you said. And just in case the other person can’t work or is gone, the woman has the ability to take care of herself and her kids. Also, having your own sense of accomplishment make you feel more valuable, as well as decreases financial stress of the other half.

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