The Wife from 1950 vs. the 2010 Breadwinner: Where Do You Belong?

by Aman Singh Das | January 25, 2010

  • My Vault

A recent study released by the Pew Research Center tells us that more women today are primary breadwinners than in 1970. We (as in women) are also more educated than our spouses today. So when discussing women, leadership and diversity, are we ignoring the advancement of men in the workplace?

the rise of wives

Citing this study, Author Sandra Tsing Loh talks about returning to being a 1970s wife again in the New York Times today. While she writes candidly about role reversals, it does bring up the question of how much advancement is too much. The number of development programs and leadership exercises aimed at women has grown exponentially in the last 40 years in corporate America as well as schools. Enrollment rates are higher than ever in the favor of females and so are salary hikes. But, for a second let's consider this: If I am making more than my husband, is it because of the field I have chosen, the course of study I navigated, the opportunities I took advantage of or the aggressive leadership development program I participate in at work? A loaded question and no obvious right answer.

Also, consider the male and female-dominated industries with variable pay structures and you have a convoluted sense of disproportion. There is (usually) no method to how we choose our spouse and a study such as this is based strictly on demographic history and a few contributing factors like higher education levels and more employment opportunities. Take the argument home and we have two workers critiquing their own performance much like we would rate our subordinates, or as Ms. Loh puts it: "In short, as the Tupperware totters lopsidedly about, in the domestic equation, the work I do at home is no longer a gift, but the labor of a mediocre colleague whose performance could be better."

So, where is the perfect balance in this work/life balance? How does one leave their professional demeanor at work? For most of us, this is a difficult habit and when I discussed this with several friends and colleagues, Ms. Loh's yearning to return to being a "1950s wife" resonated heavily.

Women Empowerment

"I don't know how it's going for my sisters, but as my 40s and Verizon bills and mortgage payments roll on, I seem to have an ever more recurring 1950s housewife fantasy. In this magical Technicolor world, the breadwinner husband, Brad, leaves home (where his duties are limited to mowing the lawn and various minor home repairs) at 7 a.m. When he returns from work at 6 p.m., aside from a savory roast with mashed potatoes, his homemaker wife, Nancy, has pipe, slippers and a tray of Manhattans ready," she writes.

Are we, the empowered women of today, experiencing a U-turn of the role reversal? How many of us fill this higher percentage graph of breadwinners at the expense of personal, more familial goals? Or are the majority of us managing a good balance of personal and professional achievements leaving no room for a return to Ms. Loh's 1950s wife? Personally, I'm not so sure where I stand just yet. Can you unequivocally take a stand? Let's make this a discussion: Leave us a comment here, connect to us via Twitter @VaultCSR or email In Good Company.

Filed Under: CSR

Close button

Get tips on interviewing, networking, resumes, and more directly to your inbox.

No Thanks

Get Our Career Newsletter

Interview, resume and job search tips emailed directly to you.