“When you look at men’s relationship satisfaction, it’s at its highest when their wife is not in the workforce. It does seem that that’s what is behind it; those ¬traditional gender roles die hard. I guess all things being equal, men would prefer their wife at home and managing the household.”
This was one observation made by Associate Professor Roger Wilkins, of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, who authored the most recent Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia study. Men whose wives do paid work outside of the home — both full-time and part-time — appear to be less satisfied in their relationships than those whose partners do not work.
HILDA is the most comprehensive social research tracking Australians’ lives over time. Each year since 2001 almost 20,000 Australians have been interviewed about their income, their health, their job satisfaction and their relationships.
The findings are illuminating. But I have to admit this finding about men liking stay-at-home wives doesn’t surprise me. Not one iota.
Regardless of gender, who wouldn’t enjoy waking up, heading into work and happily throwing themselves at the task at hand, safe in the knowledge that everything on the home front – from the laundry to the groceries to the childcare to school drop-offs to social activities – was taken care of?
Find me an adult who wouldn’t find that liberating and satisfying and I suspect I can show you a liar.
It’s not to say there isn’t enjoyment in running a home; there is plenty that is satisfying, rewarding and even life-affirming about spending time caring for children and ensuring the home life cogs tick over smoothly. But there is also plenty of drudgery in the mix.
And things get particularly difficult when attempting to undertake responsibility for it all. Trying to balance your energy and time between a job and a household is tricky. Notoriously so. (Impossibly so, I’d argue, if the home stuff isn’t shared.)
On one level I am not at all surprised that men whose wives don’t work are more satisfied than those whose wives work. Why? Because, and admittedly I’m guessing here, but if your wife doesn’t work at all, are you not presented with an infallible “leave-pass” from stuff around the house?
Stuff like endless baskets of laundry, unpacking the dishwasher, scraping weetbix from bowls, sorting out the lego, vacuuming, hanging clothes and keeping track of the pantry? Stuff that is, on the whole, so far from life-affirming it’s not funny but absolutely necessary.
I am dreamily considering how that might feel and let me tell you there is a big smile spreading across my face as I contemplate it. I can feel the weight lifting off my shoulders just thinking about it.
But it’s a pipedream. Domestic drudgery, whether you have kids or not, is a part of life that’s difficult to escape. Unless of course you work fulltime and your partner doesn’t.
In logistical terms life might be more straight-forward for many families if one person stayed at home. But for many families, however, that isn’t a possibility and for other families it’s not an attractive possibility. There is security, satisfaction and independence in working. Why is it that we are so quick to deny women those rewards? If we want someone at home, why is it the woman who is expected to step up?
In reality these days Australian families embrace a wide variety of arrangements to balance their work and family responsibilities. Yet despite this, we are still wedded to the old-fashioned arrangement of a man going out to work and a woman staying home. In Australia 76% of men who work fulltime have a partner or spouse who doesn’t work or works part-time. Only 15% of women who work full-time have a partner or spouse who doesn’t work or works part-time.
I’m guessing those women who work full-time and have the support of a partner at home would also report higher satisfaction.
What is your ideal home and family arrangement?