In the latest non-trend trend story, the New York Times reports that an increasing number of men are staying at home so that their wives can have high-powered careers on Wall Street. The mothers working in finance with stay-at-home husbands once numbered about 3,000 and now number about 21,000. “They remain less than 2 percent of all married women in finance.”
Leaving aside for a moment the miniscule number of people who are involved in this story, there are some interesting tidbits. To start with, these women need stay-at-home husbands in order to make their crazy work schedule possible. Even around-the-clock nanny coverage is really not enough to make two careers possible when one requires a spouse to leave the house at 4:45 am each morning and not return home until well past dinner.
Then there is this observation by one of the women that they tend to be taken more seriously by colleagues because they are the primary breadwinner in the family.
When one former banker was interviewing at a private equity firm, she said her prospective employers wanted to know what her husband did and seemed pleased that he had a low-paying but flexible job and handled more parenting duties.
In other words, maybe it’s not sexism (the belief that women are less capable) that causes bosses to believe that women are going to be less committed to the job so much as the fact that most women simply are not (because they often choose not to be) the primary breadwinners. Bosses may assume they are less committed because they usually are less committed.
Some of the women in these powerful positions reported that their husbands did not take on their stay-at-home duties the same way a mother would have. There was less cooking, less cleaning, less entertaining for corporate clients, less multitasking. But the thing that ultimately mattered to them was the attention their husbands lavished on the children. The children were clearly the reason these men agreed to this arrangement. As the authors observe, “Despite their wealth, the men seem largely resistant to relying on nannies and babysitters, facing down screaming toddlers and constant meal preparation with go-it-alone stoicism.”
While men are increasingly interested in spending more time with children (the number of hours has increased steadily over the past few decades), they still have no interest in “keeping house.” Which is the subject of another Times piece today. It turns out that some traditional roles are more easily changed than others.