While the changing economic roles of husbands and wives may take some getting used to, the shift has had a surprising effect on marital stability. Over all, the evidence shows that the shifts within marriages — men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have had a positive effect, contributing to lower divorce rates and happier unions.
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While it’s widely believed that a woman’s financial independence increases her risk for divorce, divorce rates in the United States tell a different story: they have fallen as women have made economic gains. The rate peaked at 23 divorces per 1,000 couples in the late 1970s, but has since dropped to fewer than 17 divorces per 1,000 couples. Today, the statistics show that typically, the more economic independence and education a woman gains, the more likely she is to stay married. And in states where fewer wives have paid jobs, divorce rates tend to be higher, according to a 2009 report from the Center for American Progress.
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Men, for instance, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to a woman’s equal or greater earning power. Women, meanwhile, struggle with giving up their power at home and controlling tasks like how to dress the children or load the dishwasher.
Linda Duxbury, a professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, recalls moments in her marriage when she was hesitant to give up control. “My husband would dress our daughter for school, and I’d say, ‘Oh my God, she looks like a clown,’ ” Professor Duxbury recalled. “He would say, ‘That’s your hang-up. She’s happy in it. If you don’t like my choice, then you do it.’ ”
She added, “In many ways women are their own worst enemies — we want men to do it, but we want to tell them how they should do it.”
Men, meanwhile, can struggle with the social expectation that husbands should always be the breadwinner. The recession, among other things, has made that expectation less realistic.
“Today, men need their wives’ income,” says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist in San Francisco who wrote “The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework.” “There is an issue for men of: ‘What is my value here if I’m not bringing in money? I understand you want a communicative, empathic guy who does housework and parenting, but how much pride can I take in that?’ ”
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