The Marriage Imbalance and The Work/Life Balance

I recently read in The New Yorker about Melissa Gilbert’s new book Committed, about the Marriage Benefit Imbalance. It was all things I had heard before. But they had never been thrown together to create a shocking look at marriage and who really wins! As someone who is so uncertain of the need to be married, this was enough to throw me into research mode. Before I go any further, I present, the marriage benefit imbalance:

“Married men live longer than single men;…married men accumulate more wealth than single men; married men are far less likely to die a violent death than single men; married men report themselves to be much happier than single men; and married men suffer less from alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression than do single men.” (The New Yorker, Jan. 11, 2010)

Wow! Why don’t more men want to marry? Cause that sounds like a pretty good deal! But does it accurately explain the work/life struggle men go through? Or will that change over time, as men struggle to attain the magical balance women have been trying to attain since they began fighting to have careers and children.

But don’t forget I said imbalance. It isn’t such a pretty picture for women – though not surprising, considering how much time women spend between careers, families, children, and their homes. So – a look at marriage for women:

“Yet married women are more likely to suffer from depression than single women are. According to Gilbert, married women are not as successful in their careers as single women. Married women are arguably less healthy than single women. Married women, until recently, were more likely to die a violent death than single women – usually, at the hands of their own husbands.” (The New Yorker, Jan. 11, 2010)

Just getting married results in, on average, 7% decrease in pay compared to unmarried women. Thus begins the marriage benefit imbalance. If a woman is already making good money, it isn’t as much of a hit, maybe not even obvious to her, but to middle class women – it can have an impact. So what else will impact this imbalance? The level of education, age of a woman at marriage, the number of children a woman bears, and how helpful her husband is with the household. It is no wonder women are the losers in marriage, with all their demands at work, at home, from spouses or partners, from children and all their commitments, and still trying to have a social life of their own.

How do we escape this, or change it? Why is it when women reach the age of 30 they feel they need to choose career advancement or having children? While more and more organizations and companies have began veering away from the old ways, offering flexible scheduling, telecommuting, and offering better benefits to take into consideration the whole family, I can only hope things will get easier. Somewhere along the way we went from easy 9-5 schedules for the average employee, to coming in early and leaving late on a regular basis. How is it that we have yet to get this right? A good start has been made, but how do we continue? It seems we have been on this path for so long, with slow changes, improving slightly with each generation.

As part of generation y, unmarried, and living with my boyfriend and our pets, I honestly am amazed at what most women are capable of, what my mother was able to do in a day. Between work, friends, family, meetings, pets to feed, meals to make and a home to keep clean I often find myself desperate for an evening free from anything but sitting on the couch with a book.

But this is where I see the potential for change, and the progress made so far. My boyfriend and I discuss who will cook dinner each night of the week, take turns with chores, and coordinate schedules. Other couples we know do similar things – chores are divided up or traded off.

By the next generation, can we actually have equality in the households? Will we have gotten the work/life balance right by then? We have come so close, but I can only hope it will only take my generation and the help of the one behind it to get this right.


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