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The Busy-ness of Work & Marriage

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Work & Marriage   ::   Employment

Husband's vs. Wife's Employment

"Marriage is a career which brings about more benefits than many others."
- Simone de Beauvoir


No one ever asks a married man if he works outside the home. It is assumed that he does because men have traditionally been the financial providers for their families. Married women, on the other hand, are frequently asked if they work outside the home. Any deviation from what was once the traditional role of homemaker seems to require some explanation. However, the traditional roles of the husband as the main breadwinner and the wife as the homemaker are no longer a reality. Less than 1/3 of U.S. families are "traditional" in the sense that they have a working father and a stay-at-home mother. Both mothers and fathers working is the new norm, with over 70% of married couples in the U.S. employed. Women report that they generally work for the same reasons as men - because they find it interesting, fulfilling, and because they need to support themselves and their families.

As a single person or as a newlywed couple there is generally no reason for both partners not to work, and most do. The majority of newlywed couples need the income of both partners because they are trying to establish themselves financially and prepare for future financial needs. These financial needs are even greater if or when children come into the marriage. Therefore, married couples with children are often faced with some difficult choices regarding childcare, work, and family life.

Marriage involves a variety of work and family styles that you and your partner may adopt, and one style is not necessarily better than the others. Each of these styles has some benefits and some drawbacks. The style you and your partner choose is a personal issue and it is up to every couple to decide what is best for them given their circumstances. The purpose of this module is to present some of the potential pros, cons, and issues surrounding these various styles of work and family life.

Discussion: Styles of Work and Family Life

  1. The "Traditional" Nuclear Family - This family consists of a husband who is the sole breadwinner and a wife who is a full-time homemaker.
  2. Pros Cons
    Husband is able to concentrate more fully on career. This increases his earning potential. Husband may not contribute sufficiently to housework.
    Wife can watch children grow and develop on a daily basis. Housework can be repetitive and boring.
    Wife has flexibility in scheduling household activities. Couple may be able to earn more money if both were working.
    Couple has assurance that children are being safely and securely cared for. Being a homemaker is often undervalued in society.
    Couple saves money by not having to pay childcare providers. Homemakers are financially dependent on their husbands.
  3. The Dual-Earner Family - This family consists of a husband and wife who both work outside the home either full or part-time.
  4. Pros Cons
    Potential for greater family income. Finding adequate, affordable childcare can be difficult and very early placement in daycare can have negative impact on child.
    May lead to husband and wife sharing more of the household responsibilities. Wives still do the majority of the housework, even when they work outside the home.
    Working outside the home can be personally satisfying. Couples may have more stress and less time for each other.
  5. The Two-Person Career - This family consists of either a husband or wife who has a very high profile job, and the other partner serves to support him or her in their job.
  6. Pros Cons
    Support of one partner allows other partner to do job better and potentially bring in more income. Partner in supporting role may not be happy because they are working a lot outside the home without getting paid directly.
    The supporting partner may create beneficial networks and friends that will help them in the future. Supporting partner may be undervalued by working partner and society.
    Employers benefit by essentially getting two employees for the price of one. Supporting partner may be limited in pursuing their own work or other interests.
  7. The Commuter Marriage - This family consists of one a husband who lives and works in one location and a wife who lives and works in another location.
  8. Pros Cons
    Both partners can pursue career advancement and higher income with the freedom to move with promotion opportunities. You may rarely get to see your partner (and children) in person.
    Both partners enjoy a certain amount of freedom, especially in terms of how and where they spend their time. Both partners assume all responsibilities of managing separate households.
    Some of the day-to-day conflict of family life may be avoided. The day-to-day opportunities for physical closeness and intimacy are not available.
    Absence may make the heart grow fonder. Absence may make the heart wander. The chance of infidelity may increase.

Discussion: Work and Family Life - A Cost/Benefit Perspective

What are the costs vs. benefits of employment outside the home? You just finished looking at some of the pros and cons of various styles of work and family life, however the decisions about whether to work outside the home and who will do it boil down to two key issues: personal value (emotional, psychological, intellectual, social) and financial value. For many couples, it is personally and financially valuable for both of them to work outside the home. Other couples are torn between the personal and financial value of working outside the home.

Discussion: Do We Both Have to Work So Much?

The answer to this question for many couples is "yes," either because it is rewarding, and they want to, or because they have to in order to make ends meet. One study found that approximately 50% of dual-earner families would fall below the poverty level without the earnings of both partners. However, there are some couples where it may not be necessary for both partner to work outside the home or work as many hours as they do. For some couples, having two incomes is perceived as a "necessity" because of a rise in consumer expectations. Advertising is powerful and it helps us develop costly "needs," when in reality we may not have to keep up with the Jones's in order to have a happy and healthy relationship.



Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 07). The Busy-ness of Work & Marriage. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License