How Couples Live On A Single Income

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How Couples Live On A Single Income
Surviving on a single income. Couples take turns at earning and learning.

You've got to hand it to Bill and Hillary Clinton: Despite all their bad behavior, they do know how to take turns. When Bill headed off to Washington for his first term as president, Hillary left her law practice and followed. When their time at the White House was up and Hillary ran for Senate, Bill embraced his role as spouse. And a fine political husband he has been, showing up for fundraisers, waving and smiling, and praising his gal at every opportunity.

Taking turns is a skill we learn early on at the playground but allow to erode as adults. You rarely see couples making magnanimous offers like “You swing first, and then I’ll take a turn.” Instead, partners hook up while both are working and either live out their years on two incomes or permanently split duties between primary earner and child-rearer.

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While the world makes all sorts of progress around us, we keep recycling the tired argument about whether women should work or be moms. The perpetual either/or of early feminism has trapped us in a worn-out dilemma of choosing to be dreary homemakers or depleted professionals.

I’d like to kill off that debate for eternity. Let’s ask not which to be, but when. This is a far more freeing question; it’s predicated on the belief that men and women can both work hard and both take breaks—and improve their marriages in the process.

Here’s an example: Mark P., a software project manager, and Cris G., a technical writer, have been together for 19 years, over the course of which they’ve swapped the role of major earner several times. In 1988, Cris’s mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s; to care for her, someone needed to research services, hire helpers, and make financial arrangements. “Cris did that, while I worked,” says Mark. A decade later, laid off during the technology bust, Mark decided to spend a year writing a novel.

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