During the Spring 2014 semester, I took a class called “The History of American Families.” One of the biggest trends discussed was the shift in perceptions and expectations of marriage. As a freshman in college with a serious boyfriend and plans to get married before I graduated – which I did – it was a compelling topic: what does marriage mean in 21st century America, and what trends are people seeing for women in particular?
Earlier this week an Economist article from November 2015 popped up on my timeline: Most Americans would get married, if only they could find someone suitable. The article reemphasized many familiar themes: people are now more likely to marry for emotional reasons, less likely to marry young, and women (who are increasingly matching and even surpassing their husbands’ earning potential) are most likely to bear the brunt of household duties.
It’s a familiar dynamic: even as more women graduate college and find themselves climbing the career ladder, they’re bogged down with more domestic responsibilities than men. In addition to working full-time, women are often expected to cook, clean, and make schedules for their spouses or families. The stigma around and feminization of “domestic duties” has placed unnecessary stress on women who are tasked with an increasingly complex work-life balance. Happily, increasingly diverse family arrangements have driven workplace policy towards the more inclusive, flexible side of the spectrum (woohoo, San Francisco!). This doesn’t alleviate all of the stress of an unequal distribution of household responsibilities, but it does increase a woman’s ability to manage work, personal life, stress, and career goals.
So what’s next for American working moms and spouses? Logic seems to suggest that the deterioration of traditional gender roles within the home will continue as women become more selective about their spouses. As the Economist article points out, marriage is essentially a market: “people buy in if the price is right.” Women capable of supporting themselves are going to marry for personal reasons – and men who bring something different to the table (perhaps a willingness to help with laundry or grocery shopping) are going to be the best-looking options. Over time, this will likely lead to a more natural, equal distribution of household duties and a general decrease in stress felt by working women. Because, after all: happy wife, happy life. No really – it’s a thing.