The Time article (via Paul Caron) that bounces off that NYT piece has the arresting headline: "When Stay-at-Home Husbands Are Embarrassing to Their Wives/We simply haven't evolved to the point where a househusband is considered desirable." Whoa! I don't remember anything in the NYT article about these hard-charging female bankers getting embarrassed over their home-front husbands.
The author at Time is Vivia Chen, and — before reading what she has to say — I hypothesize that she's going to skew left of the New York Times and promote policies about flex-time and childcare for all women in the workplace, based on the premise that the role-reversed single-earner family is only available to the rich. So don't see those women profiled in the NYT as a model for women's equality.
I guarantee that I wrote all of the above without reading beyond the headline and the link to the NYT piece. Chen says she's not surprised at the "tenfold increase (since 1980) in the number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses." The surprise is the new willingness to "admit" that couples were living like this. Chen's area of journalism has been law (not finance), and she's familiar with the stories of women in top law firms. The high achievers often have a husband whose contribution to the marital partnership is made outside of the income-producing workplace. But according to Chen, these women didn't talk about it.
I sensed that reluctance when I did a story on female partners at big Wall Street firms with househusbands a few years ago. Though three couples were happy to speak to me on the record about their arrangement, many more bowed out about going public. “My husband and I talked it over, and we’re not comfortable with the scrutiny,” said one partner.That doesn't mean they were embarrassed! It's not necessarily shame that motivates a person to decline to submit the story of her private life to the template a journalist has in mind for an article. The fact that Chen would say it is shows the wisdom of declining to dish the quotes and anecdotes she wanted for her story.
Chen tells us that we have "entrenched ambivalence about changing gender roles" and:
Men in these situations often feel alienated, particularly if they are surrounded by stay-at-home moms. But the power moms with the stay-at-home husbands are just as uneasy, often more embarrassed than proud that they’ve upset the traditional order.These are simply assertions, backed up mostly, it seems, by the data that women who earn the income in single-income families don't feel like being Chen's data. How convenient! Finally, in the last 2 paragraphs, Chen gets close to where I predicted she'd go:
[T]he publication of the New York Times article suggests that this atypical arrangement might be more palatable if the wife makes an outrageous amount of money. In one instance, the husband put the brakes on his architecture career when his banker wife started to make twice his earnings. At that point, “the solution seemed obvious.”Chen stops short of saying the single-earner household can't work anymore unless that single-earner makes a huge income (and she doesn't detour into the usual talk about what's really needed to support the parents who do (and must!) go to work). It's fair to ding the NYT for focusing on rich outliers and to cherry pick the phrases in that article that hint that the high-achieving women are not proud of husbands whose only activity is housework and childcare. Chen's last sentence is so tame that it's hard to fight with her: There's "unease," and she's "not sure," and maybe were just not "ready."
What remains to be seen is what happens when the economics are not so “obvious” — when women work at more pedestrian, less lucrative jobs. Given the unease about reversing gender roles when there is a superearner in the equation, I’m not sure we’re ready to have June Cleaver go to work and Ward Cleaver stay home with the boys after all.
As you know if you've been following my single-earner household tagged posts — which go back to April 2012 — I am a proponent of clear thinking about household economics in light of taxes and the value of unpaid work within the family unit. I resist the endless propaganda that the single-income family is no longer possible for ordinary people — that it's some delusion haunted by the ghosts of the 1950s, who are almost always embodied in the characters June and Ward Cleaver. I think we are failing to see how much we lose when we accept the idea that all good adults must devote their work energy to the production of taxable income.