Love, Self

Husbands (Not Kids) Actually RUIN Women's Careers, Says Science

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unhappy couple

Today, career savvy women want ‘equality’ in their relationships with their male partners. They talk of sharing housework, parenting, and the bills. This constant dialogue about equality normalizes the belief that women can have it all – if they just find the right relationship.

Many women hang onto this belief despite awareness of the considerable evidence indicating otherwise. Women still only make about 78 cents for every guy’s dollar. ‘Mommytracking’ is alive and well in the business world – fewer promotions, lower pay, and the loss of high profile work that accompanies motherhood has a profound affect on financial wellbeing across a woman’s lifespan.  

The heightened risk of heart disease and other stress related illnesses amongst working women – rates of stress-related illnesses are twice that of men, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The sad truth is, even egalitarian men are the biggest block to women's career success.

So if you've ever thought that you just need to work hard and find a ‘nice’ guy who makes a decent income and will help with the laundry on Saturday, you are a prime candidate for career failure. According to a new Harvard Business School study by Ely, Ammerman and Stone, the reality is ‘children don’t ruin women’s careers – husbands do.’

Yes, that’s right. Expectations about how a couple will distribute family and child-rearing responsibilities while maintaining both their careers is the biggest block to women’s career success. 

When examining the career success of women over the last 20 years, Ely, Ammerman and Stone found no significant difference in the career expectations of women and men. They still measured success in the same way - by job title, job level and professional achievement. Their personal career ambitions remained the same as well.

However, women reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction, which has been noted in many much earlier studies.

And here’s where we get hung up – in the past, researchers and sociologists have assumed that women abandon their jobs and head back home where they experience higher levels of satisfaction in their more fulfilling roles as mother and caregiver.  However, Ely, Ammerman and Stone’s find no evidence of this.

Instead their research indicates that once a child is born, views about the importance of the new mother's work declines. Couples shift towards less egalitarian notions of who does what, and why. And women mommy-track to accommodate the changing views of their male partner about the importance of their career.

This is not surprising given the ubiquity of widespread, traditional social views about the importance of women's role as mother, and men's role as breadwinner, throughout Western culture.

So, the bottom line seems to be this: Many egalitarian-oriented men abandon these principles when a couple’s first child arrives.

If you are a woman who wants it all, smarten up. Plan how to get the domestic chores and childcare responsibilities done, without holding onto the hope that you will choose the perfect guy who will give up his career ambitions on an equal basis to see that you don’t have to.

Sure, keep the hope alive, but don’t bank on it. Don't hang onto your ideals, and try to change him once the diapers are piling up and you are struggling to make your client deadline. Find practical support for your mommy chores. And raise your sons and daughters to be egalitarian, instead of just talking about it. 

Dr. Jan Hill is a relationship coach and President of LIFEWORKS Coaching, Counseling, Consulting in Toronto.

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