On Sunday, Forbes
's on-line edition published a piece by Michael Noer entitled "Don't Marry A Career Woman,"
in which Noer rattled off the reasons sociologists have determined that career women are bad spouses. His argument is essentially that marriages to educated, working women are unhappier, less stable, and more likely to divorce: as such marriage to such a woman is done at the man's peril.*
I've taken a close look at the piece and much of the underlying research Noer cited. I haven't looked at everything, but, in each case that I reviewed, I disagree with Noer's depictions of that research, and I found additional research that contradicted his thesis. I'll specifically explain where I disagree with Noer, but here's the at-the-top bottom-line.
Women's increased education does not
increase divorce rates.
Education increases marital stability.
A woman's employment does not
increase the likelihood that she'll get divorced.
Women's employment does not
decrease marital happiness.
And education nor employment do not
appear to increase infidelity, either.
Now, some specific instances of how I think Noer has not accurately represented the research.
Noer writes that a 2004 report by John J. Johnson finds that "Women's work hours consistently increase divorce." But that is not Johnson's finding.
Instead, my reading of the report
is that there's a correlation between women's increased work hours and divorce – but that Johnson makes no
definitive findings that those work hours cause
divorce. Conversely, he provides a list of reasons to show that his work does not
answer the issue of causation – such as it may be that wives who want to get divorced work more hours before divorcing, either to improve the marriage or give them the resources they need to leave.A 2006 study, in the Journal of Family Issues
answer the causation issue.
In that report, its authors find that women's increased hours at work does not
increase the likelihood of divorce.
In fact, women's employment, over all, lowers
the rate of divorce. Not only that, but the wives' employment has no real effect – positive or negative – on marital quality for either
spouse. In other words, husbands do not have happier marriages just because their wives stay home, and they don't have unhappier marriages just because their wives are working. (What really matters is if the wife wants to work, or if she's doing it because she has to financially.)
Moreover, (supporting Johnson's hypothesis) the authors did find that already-unhappy wives do increase their hours at work – either as a way to find other interests outside of the marriage or get the resources to leave.
So working is not a cause
of marital instability – it's a way of addressing the instability that already exists
(And going to work may actually improve the marriage, since working lowers the divorce rate.)
Another problem area I cannot reconcile the research: Noer's discussion of infidelity.
First, even though this is an article about why career-women are problematic spouses, Noer never mentions the fact that the vast majority of partners who are unfaithful are men. (So that section of his article should really be a warning to why women shouldn't marry career-men.)
Instead, Noer relies on a "wide-ranging review of the ... literature" to assert that "highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas.)" and that people making more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.
It's unclear who conducted the "wide-ranging review of the ... literature," but for those who might believe it's Noer's own - I believe it's the work of Adrian J. Blow
, whom Noer mentions in the piece. But Noer doesn't include Blow's further points: Blow explains the education-element only seems to be a factor when there's a real disparity of education within the couple (which is consistent with the scholarship on how educational heterogamy
can be an indicator of marital instability).
In fact, most of Blow's comments are from an accurate review of a 2001 study entitled "Understanding Infidelity."
In that underlying study, the authors explain that the education factor is essentially wiped out when divorce is taken into account. Blow, by the way, includes this explanation in his work, though Noer does not.
In other words, the tie between increased education and infidelity is only a factor for those couples who actually divorced. And as study after study shows: educated women are more likely to divorce if their husbands have had an affair.
So increased education has not yet been determined to be a general predictor of infidelity within a marriage. A point omitted by Noer, but made crystal-clear in Blow's review of the literature:
"We have heard people state that highly educated individuals are more likely to engage in infidelity. However, it appears that assertion is not a categorical truth
, but rather a factor that may depend on the educational dynamics of partners in the relationship and history of divorce. Further research is needed in this regard." (emphasis added)
Noer's slanted use of the research on the relationship between income and infidelity - using the $30K threshold - also fails to show the real picture.
In "Understanding Infidelity," the authors did
find that increased income did mean an increase in affairs. But they don't think that making money is necessarily the underlying reason for an affair. Instead, it may be that those making less money just can't afford to have one. Richer people can afford those secret hotel bills and the like.
(I'd also like to note that since, depending on the family size and location, an annual family income of under $30K could qualify you as being poor under the federal poverty standard. While he seems to advocate a return to a single-earner family, I don't think Noer really intends on advocating increasing poverty rates as the answer to infidelity. And if he is, he should know that those in poverty are at an increased risk for divorce. I'd also like to remind everyone that wealth is a source of marital stability, while, on the other hand, money problems are a frequently mentioned cause of divorce.)
What I think Noer's theory is this: if more women are in the workforce, they will meet more hot guys at work to have sex with, than they will meet at the P.T.A., so they'll have more affairs. And more affairs mean more divorces. So keep the women at home.
Noer is correct that more women are having affairs, and that this can, in part, be attributed to an increase in potential partners in those affairs. But where Noer's theory falls apart is that, if he's right, then dual-earner couples should have higher rates of infidelity than couples with only one spouse at work. Because now both husbands and wives have all those new potential sex-partners, and they conceivably both have the money to check into a hotel suite.
But the researchers found that that is not
Dual-earners are not
the couples with the highest rates of infidelity. Instead, the highest rates of infidelity are when only one spouse is working, and the other is unemployed. (In other words, when the men are at work, and the wives are at home.)
The scholars theorize this is because the working spouse has more power in the family and
more resources with which to have an affair. And that infidelity rates drop when the power and economic structures of the couple are more equalized.
It may also be that women usually have emotional attachments to their extramarital partners, so proximity alone isn't going to result in the dramatic increase of affairs Noer fears. (Perhaps that's because he's forgetting that he's talking about women, whereas men are is more likely to have sex just for sex's sake.)
As I said, I haven't gone through all of Noer's research. Some of it probably is accurate. I know I have seen research about the damaging effects of divorce on couples and their children. I know I've seen how the changing workforce, gender roles, etc. can affect marriages. But there are a lot of components to those findings which need to be addressed. (That's why we've got the blog, actually.)
Dual-earner families are the reality for many families now. Articles like Noer's do absolutely nothing to help those families; they just provide unfair and misdirected cannon fodder into the frey.
*Within hours, with arguments about the piece were lighting up the blogosphere, Forbes
reposted it as a "counterpoint," with an essay arguing why career women were good spouses, after all. Thanks to Salon
for its piece
about what was going on.