Sorry Martha, women don’t dream of being housewives
Bad news, Martha Stewart; despite your years of diligent tutelage, lately it seems like the whole idea of “housewife” as career choice may be heading for the endangered list.
That is certainly the message from several studies lately, which find that despite the nouveau glam of the cup cake and the hand-crocheted throw, now even parents of daughters think the best thing that can happen to ensure her financial future is not to “marry well” but to get her own job.
Two hundred years on from the publication of the vail-as-grail saga Pride and Prejudice, a recent poll of 1000 British parents found 57 per cent believed the best hope for their daughter’s long-term security was that she’d “get a good job”.
Only 31.9 per cent believed the girl’s security was “dependent on” her finding a husband. Another study found that young Americans (18 to 34) of both genders hoped for a partnership or marriage in which both shared the earning and family load quite evenly.
In fact, for the first time more young women (66 per cent) said “success in a career” was “the most important” or “very important” to them than young men (59 per cent). Both genders said having children and getting married were “very important” to them as well, but such was the determination of young women to be able to work that nearly three quarters told a prominent New York University sociology professor that they would prefer to separate and raise children alone than be forced to be a housewife full time.
One of the fiestier, and funnier, bits I’ve read in all the shouty debate online lately about women and their place in the world was a response to the English parents-of-girls finding by the pull-no-punches blogger Lindy West, at the website Jezebel.
West noted with disbelief that anyone at all still considered ‘‘housewife’’ a career goal, for themselves or for their daughters.
‘‘Isn’t it bizarre that not particularly long ago a whole bunch of women just assumed they’d grow up to be housewives? Wives! Just in a house! Wifing around! ALL THE TIME. . .For years and years and years the expectation was that you should find a “good” husband, and then you’re taken care of. 4 LYFE.
“A hundred years ago, the parents of girls would, almost certainly, have put “marrying well” at the top of their list. Two hundred years ago? Scratch the “almost”,” wrote West.
Interestingly, more parents of young men thought their son’s future financial security depended on finding a wife (37.7 per cent).
Asked to rank a list of things they thought their child would see as providing the greatest financial security, only seven per cent of girl-parents said they thought their daughter would put “marrying well” at the top.
So what is behind this turn around in the hopes we have for our girls and they have for themselves? Lindy West suggests one answer may be that feminism – with its keystone belief in the equal right of women to take their place in the work foce – may be “working”.
This is the most obvious interpretation of both these studies, which indicate women’s own expectations for their work life are increasing, according to NYU’s professor Kathleen Gerson. She found that since 1997 the number of 18 to 34 year-old women who said “success in a high-paying career” was “very” or “one of the most important things” to them rose from 56 per cent to 66 per cent.
In the same decade and a bit, the number of similar aged who said career success was “very” or “one of the main important things” for them went up only one point, to 59 per cent.
Marriage, meanwhile, is as popular as ever, in fact numbers of Australians (and Brits) choosing it are back on the up—with a steady increase since 2001. Even so, it seems we’ve realized that when it comes to financial security, matrimony comes with no guarantees.
As another lady professor, Jane Humphries (specialist in economic history at Oxford, no less) said when commenting on the English research: “A modern day Pride and Prejudice might begin ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman is capable of building her own good fortune by herself.”
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