"What does your wife do?"
This question was probably a bit out of place not that long ago. And the reason was that, more often than not, there was no reason to ask. Statistics from the US Department of Labor show that in the 1970s, around 35 percent of the workforce was female, with only 10 percent of women having a university degree. Even so, growth in employment of women is predominantly in part-time work and many occupations remain underrepresented by women.
Nowadays, women are getting educated at rates equal to or higher than men in this country. This has seen a massive increase of the number of dual-career partnerships. In the US, the rate grew over 30 percent so that now 47.5 percent of couples are of two professionals. In Canada, that number is as high as 70 percent. While this may afford the much-sought-after DINK (double income, no kids) status, juggling two careers is not always straightforward.
At all stages of careers, there are certain sacrifices that are expected to be made. This includes moving around the country (or even the world), long hours, delaying childbearing or even just taking the stresses of the job home. The added social complexities of women in careers that are traditionally male place added stress on the individual and the relationship.
Marriages and partnerships between two professionals may be at risk of breakdown above and beyond those relationships where one partner (usually the female) works less than full time. That being said, being a parent or a homemaker is an absolute commitment and occupation in and of itself. Prominent figures such as Anne-Marie Slaughter have written about how women in particular cannot have it all and has publicised the added stress on a relationship when work is a big part of your life.
My own experience in this has been vast. Virtually all of my friends and colleagues are married to men or women who are also doctors or some other profession or business owner. During specialist training, it's not abnormal to be working up to 100 hours a week. In fact, a lot of doctors would consider a 60-hour week luxurious. We often liken our relationships to "ships passing in the night". Specialisation often requires periods of employment interstate or overseas. So trying to juggle two sleep-deprived, mobile and dedicated professionals' personal and professional needs is incredibly hard.
As the number of women in the workforce increases, in particular in occupations where a good deal of sacrifice for the career takes place, that is going to place additional stress on a relationship that our parents and grandparents largely didn't face. Who will raise the children? Who will clean the house? Whose office Christmas party gets priority, lest you rub the boss the wrong way?
The dual-professional couple, I believe, is a strong argument for work-life balance and redefining gender roles. In an era when we are expected to go above and beyond for our jobs, our personal lives are suffering. Allowing some flexibility in the workplace is so important to help us maintain healthy personal lives. Happy workers are better, more productive workers.
This practice should not just extend to those with partners or children. As Sheryl Sandberg pointed out in Lean In, single people have just as much a right and desire for a personal life as those with children and partners. Otherwise, how do you fulfill your personal needs if you are at work all of the time?
The way we view women as the primary caregivers has to change. Amongst my friends and colleagues, largely, the women are still responsible for the bulk of household running and care giving. We also judge women harshly in so many ways.
'Give up' children for a career and you are a maternal failure. Prioritise children or partners over work and you don't have what it takes. It is an impossible double standard to meet and women are running themselves into the ground trying to climb the corporate ladder, sweep the floors, raise children, take care of themselves and have dinner on the table by 7pm. It's important that we allow flexibility in life just as much as work and whether that happens by outsourcing household tasks or by just respecting individual choices, we need to change our attitudes pronto.
On an individual level, the more effectively we can view our marriages as a team and try our best to fulfill the needs of the other one and compromise, the better for our home lives and work lives. Most of us would rank our families and careers as very high priorities in our lives. Making both work for both people should be a priority for workplaces and individuals alike.