8.27.2006

Have the relationships of married professionals changed?

As I'd stated previously, I disagree with one of the primary underlying assumptions of Linda Hirshman's new book and article from last winter: that while the public world has changed to accommodate professional women, their private lives and relationships have hardly changed at all.

The basis for my disagreement is my own experience and that of the upper middle class educated women that I know. In this post, I'll provide many examples of the various relationships and work arrangements of women around me.

First off, let me clarify that my blog, and the arguments therein, are intended to address professional, highly educated women, their career choices and the societal forces that affect their choices. Accordingly, this post focuses on the relationships of those women as well. Again--highly educated (post-graduate degrees) women.

Since I entered the workforce after law school, I've found myself surrounded by women that fit that description, in large part because I am one of those women.

So, let's start with me. I never intended to stop working, and always envisioned being the primary source of income for my family, as did my husband, a man with a bachelors degree in a field that has limited earning potential and minimal opportunities for advancement up a ladder--but also happens to be a career that is in high demand right now.

After juggling part-time schedules and seeing each other one day per week, I made an abrupt decision to leave my job, in large part due to career dissatisfaction unrelated to having kids. I took a few years off to have our next child, and am now phasing back into the legal field by working on a part-time basis while my husband works full-time.

Here are other examples of any number of couples with children (that I know fairly well to quite well) and arrangements, all of which appear to me from the "outside" to be egalitarian relationships unless otherwise noted:
  • Husband (H) is a lawyer, wife (W) a physician. Upon finishing her residency, he left to care for the kids while she worked f/t.
  • H has a 4 year degree, W is a physician. He worked on and off throughout her residency, and was the primary caregiver for their children when he wasn't working. When he was working they were in daycare. When her residency ended, they moved in order to allow her to follow her career path. His was secondary.
  • H and W are doctors. Both worked through their residency and kids were in daycare. She's vacillated about not practicing when their residencies ended, but seems to want to continue practicing at this point.
  • H is a teacher, W is a physician. Initially, she had no qualms about working and always expected to be the primary source of income. After her second child, she tried to work out a p/t arrangement with her practice unsuccessfully. She uses a nanny and is still struggling with the issue of balance. They are considering having him leave work, but it would drastically affect his pension and his tenure track, and thus negatively affect them both in the long run.
  • H and W are both doctors working full-time. Their kids have always been in daycare. This is one case where H doesn't seem to carry his load, and she bears the burden of childcare and housework when not at work.
  • H and W are both doctors. He's from Iceland. They had kids during their residencies and both planned to continue working after their residencies end--possibly in Iceland since it's far easier to manage childcare issues and work/life balance in Iceland.
  • H is involved in some sort of business, W became pregnant in law school and obtained law degree over time, and had another child while in law school. She doesn't plan to practice law anytime soon.
  • H is involved in business, W obtained law degree, had kids, and then obtained first job in a firm when the second child entered kindergarten.
  • H is a physician, W obtained law degree while kids were in grade school and is now a partner in a law firm.
  • H is a lawyer (Asst. AG) and W is a partner in a law firm. W worked part-time for a number of years while the kids were young. The kids attended daycare.
  • H is a lawyer (a law clerk for a judge), W is a partner in a law firm. W worked part-time for a number of years while the kids were young and utilized an au pair.
  • H is in sales, W is a lawyer (Asst. PD). His job situation is not exactly stable and he watches the kids when he's not employed. She works f/t, and financially, they both need to be working in order to stay afloat.
  • H is a lawyer as is W. They were both Asst. DAs when they met. He is now a partner in a firm, she continues to work p/t in the Appeals section of the DAs. The kids are in daycare when she works.
I think that this summary is an indication that the decisions made by professional couples regarding child care and career paths are varied and unpredictable. In my experieince, there is no set pattern evident wherein the woman abandons her career in order to care for kids, while the husband merrily waltzes down the path to professional success.

Each couple considers the various factors and comes to a decision as unique as they are that works for their family. Rarely, if ever, do I see women simply giving up on their careers. Many alter their career paths a bit for a few years, but stay in the loop and jump right back on. You'll notice that many women ended up partners in law firms, even though they reduced their hours for a few yeras. And, some men changed their career paths as well.

I think that my totally unscientific survey is evidence that Linda Hirshman's blanket statement/assumption that "private lives and relationships have hardly changed at all" is patently false.

As a result, I think that all of her conclusions that derived from that assumption are false as well, as I'll be showing over the next few weeks.

There is hope for us yet!

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