I’m a working woman. I went to college to be a graphic designer and landed a great job shortly after graduation. In fact, I earn more than my fiancé. However, my parents are convinced that since I work outside the home, our marriage is going to fall apart. Is there any evidence to show that a wife that works leads to marriage problems?
The relationship of work and family in the United States has undergone a profound change in the last few decades. More and more women have entered the labor force. In the past, most women in the workplace were single. Now married women, often with children under eighteen, are entering the labor force in unprecedented numbers. This has created the “dual-worker” family and only recently have researchers been able to uncover its effect on marriage.
There is little doubt that the working woman’s ability to support herself financially has led to a stronger sense of independence. In the past a woman’s reliance on her husband for financial support contributed to her staying in the marriage bond. Now a woman alone can survive financially. But not only did a woman in the past have fewer economic alternatives than her husband, she also had to derive her status from his success. Not so for today’s working woman. She can carve out her own professional identity separate from his. Of course this new independence (financially and professionally) can be viewed as contributing to the break-up of some marriages. In fact, one study has even found that the more hours of work per week by the wife, the higher a couple’s chances of divorce.
On the other side of the coin, studies have shown that work outside the home can improve and enhance a woman’s family life. Her earnings can increase the family’s standard of living and alleviate the family’s monetary restraints. In addition, the working wife may derive great personal satisfaction from her work and this, in turn, can stimulate a more fulfilling marriage. Her self-esteem may increase with the knowledge that she is a more equal partner in the marriage.
As you can see, research evidence on marital satisfaction when the wife works is mixed. After reviewing many studies, researchers have concluded that wives who work from choice rather than economic necessity, those whose husbands view their employment favorably, and those who work part-time are happier with their marriages than full-time housewives. Whether a wife works has little relation to marital satisfaction. How couples cope with the wife working seems to be individually determined by each couple.
For many couples a dual career family is inevitable and these couples must intentionally focus on balancing their careers with their marriage — so their jobs work for them and not the other way around. Once a couple works out the new routines and relationship changes, marital satisfaction need not suffer and with the right attitudes can be strengthened all the more.