The One Factor That Destroys Women's Careers, Says Research (It's Not Kids!)

It's actually the husbands who hold back their wives when it comes to their jobs.

Last updated on Mar 22, 2024

Man yelling at woman to get out  Alexander's Images | Canva 

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 83 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 have a profound effect on financial well-being 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. The sad truth is, that 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 2014 Harvard Business School study by Ely, Ammerman, and Stone, the reality is ‘children don’t ruin women’s careers — husbands do.’


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Yes, that’s right. Expectations about how a couple will distribute family and child-rearing responsibilities while maintaining both their careers are 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 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.



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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 mothers and caregivers. However, Ely, Ammerman, and Stone 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 decline. 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 mothers, and men's role as breadwinners, throughout Western culture.



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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's deadline. Find practical support for your mommy chores. And raise your sons and daughters to be egalitarian, instead of just talking about it. 


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Dr. Jan Hill is a sociologist, coach, author, and adjunct professor at York University in Toronto Canada.