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Forbes to Guys: If You Want to Make Partner, Don't Choose a Career Woman as a Partner

The Legal Pad links to Michael Noer's recent piece posted on Forbes.com, How do women, careers and marriage mix?  Not well. The article generated so much controversy that Forbes removed it from the main site.

Noer's piece describes why marrying a career woman dooms men and their families to a life of misery: 

If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).

Why? Well, despite the fact that the link between work, women and divorce rates is complex and controversial, much of the reasoning is based on a lot of economic theory and a bit of common sense. In classic economics, a marriage is, at least in part, an exercise in labor specialization. Traditionally, men have tended to do "market" or paid work outside the home, and women have tended to do "nonmarket" or household work, including raising children. All of the work must get done by somebody, and this pairing, regardless of who is in the home and who is outside the home, accomplishes that goal. Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases -- if, for example, both spouses have careers -- the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that.

Other problems with marrying a career woman include the likelihood that she'll become more successful and grow disatisfied, or she'll meet someone else (though Noer admits that the same possibility exists when men work outside the home). 

The article is ludicrous,  incredibly stereotyped and even a little old-fashioned (I mean, do modern-day, educated individuals really fear that their spouses will have affairs when they work with members of the opposite sex?) Still, within the legal profession, I think that marrying a career woman (or a career man) can impact the spouse's ability to make partner. The legal profession is incredibly demanding, and where both spouses are committed to careers, something's going to suffer: either the children (if they have any) or one of the partner's chances for partnership. My theory is supported by anectodal evidence; most of the male lawyers who I know who are partners at large firms are married to spouses who don't have careers. Many of the women are stay-at-home parents, while others are former attorneys who left the law because it never made them happy or because they had children. For male lawyers, marrying a career woman may not mean an unhappy marriage as Noer suggests. But marriage to a career woman can stymie a man's chances for partnership.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 29, 2006 at 03:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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