Working Women Are Happy (And So Are Their Husbands)

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

It's been awhile since we had a nice balance brouhaha, but I knew there was one boiling when I saw this headline at the BBC: "Mothers 'are happier' having job." The folks over at Salon picked up on it, too, running a piece that declared "The whole 'working mother' thing actually works." Of course, I couldn't trust the media to get all the facts right, so I dug up the research, from the UK's Institute for Social and Economic Research.

According to the study, satisfaction with life is lowest for women who don't do paid work; those who work full-time have the highest ratings. I'm not a social scientist, but all of this seems compelling and seems to stick a pin in the idea that working women are caught in a life of two-sphere drudgery. On the flip side, it's not fair to label at-home parents miserable across the board -- the differences in satisfaction scores were statistically significant but not enormous, and there is great danger in assuming that because something is true for a population that it is true for all individuals.

There's plenty to debate right there, but what really caught my eye was the findings on men. As it turns out, men's life satisfaction tends to increase if their wives work. Even though men come off as cads in the survey -- which found that having kids doesn't boost happiness for guys -- this conclusion does a great job of cutting down the dangerous and misogynistic idea that men really, really want traditional marriages and a clear-cut division of responsibilities in the household.

This conforms to my longstanding bias: I think that equality in marriage makes for happier kids and a more stable union. The even better news is that the data for the study was gathered between 1996 and 2003, meaning that the study authors were looking at an older set of fathers than are walking around my neighborhood. I'm optimistic that the next generation will be even more equality-minded.

While I'm sure I'll get an earful on whether working women are actually more satisfied with their lives, I'd love to hear about your working spouses. Are you happier when your better half is out in the workforce?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  December 20, 2007; 9:30 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts , Dads , Division of Labor , Research
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"Are you happier when your better half is out in the workforce?"

Uh, yeah. What would they do all day at home?

Posted by: chittybangbang | December 20, 2007 9:49 AM

The other day my friend and I (both mid-twenties, childless) were talking about our plans for the next few years. I told her that I wanted to try to start having kids before I was thirty, but that I would be about to turn 30 when graduating from law school. She asked if I was going to wait til I graduated to have kids. I hesitated, and she said, "I think you should. Don't you want to stay home with your kids?" And that moment suddenly seemed like a foreshadowing of things to come.

I don't want to stay home with my kids. I want to work. I want to love my kids, spend time with my kids, raise my kids. And work. It does seem like the way that would make me happiest..

Posted by: JEGS | December 20, 2007 9:55 AM

God willing I'll be a parent in 2008 and I believe my husband will be happier with me working because we'd both be miserable if I was in charge of cleaning. I can clean, but I hate it and my standards are not as high as his. I'm glad that society is finally seeing that having ovaries does not necessarily make one any better or any more relishing of household tasks. That said, I think a lot of women are much happier at home. The best judge of whether an individual should do paid work outside the home (and how much) is the person in question.

Posted by: molly.munch.2006 | December 20, 2007 10:03 AM

The very same BBC article that Brian cites goes on to say:

"Other research has not always taken the same point of view.

"Another report, conducted by the Centre for Policy Studies in 2003, said nearly half of working mothers would prefer to stay at home with their children if not for money worries.

"And a 2006 government survey found that more mothers said the desire to spend more time with their children was stopping them from working longer hours."

There are studies on both sides of this issue. No couple should let any academic or government studies tell them how to live their lives. If you know you'll feel better as a working mom, pick a husband who is willing and able to support your decision. If you know you'll feel better as a stay-at-home mom, pick a husband who is wlling and able to support you. If you were happy being raised by a stay-at-home mom, and you want your children to have the same privilege you had, pick a wife who is willing and able to be a stay-at-home mom, and don't let any studies -- especially studies done in a foreign country -- discourage you.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 10:03 AM

OK, maybe I am cyncical but I don't think a lot of what drives men to be happy with working spouses is about equality and niceness. I actually think a lot of men want the money. Your talking in professional couples a huge % (30-75%) of income loss. And for the poor and lower middle class it is the difference between making it and not making it. Also women are still doing the majority of the child care duties and household chores. So the men get the $$ and the chores done. Win win for them. Also I do think it is hard on the working spouse if their stay at home spouse feels isolated. Because when they get home they get literally pounced on because SAHP did not have any one to talk to all day. I really doubt these studies on a personal level. Some people love having a stay at home spouse, some spouses love being home, some love working and some love having a working spouse. All just depends on the individuals. Either way the best marriages are the ones that agree on one strategy and support the others choices.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 20, 2007 10:09 AM

Matt -- Yours is an excellent point, and I'm glad you made it. In fact, the takeaway may be that you can't plug everyone into the same roles and expect everyone to react the same way ...

Posted by: rebeldad | December 20, 2007 10:11 AM

Here's more from the study abstract: "Women without children do not care about their hours of work at all, while women with children are significantly happier if they have a job regardless of how many hours it entails." As a woman without children, I DO care about my hours. I love my work, but I'm working to live, not living to work. If I could work part-time and still support myself, you bet I would. There are a great many things I'd like to do if I didn't have to work fulltime!

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 10:13 AM

I am at home from work with a sick kid. I know that my husband is much happier with a working spouse despite the difficult balancing act and, perhaps, stress in our lives. HOwever, we both appreciate the extra income and I enjoy putting my education to good use and having new intellectual challenges. I think what he doesn't really appreciate is that while I work and earn nearly the same salary, there is never a question that I always put my family first when it is important. For example, I feel absolutely no heartburn that I am home instead of him and he went off without even a discussion regarding this. He does take a turn to miss work for family obligations but it is a rare occasion. So while he doesn't want a SAH wife he does want one that is more willing than he is to sacrifice ambition for family. Perfect equality in all things is probably not feasible or desirable and if I insisted on an even division of home labor we would not make it. He has a very demanding stressful job. Mine is more same-old, same-old with an even rhythm and working hours. I shoulder the vast amount of all household chores and child care and transportation. I pay all bills/taxes and maintain all the computers. I hire people to fix things in the house. I track all family medical and dental appointments/bills/insurance. Am I an insane doormat of a woman? No. In early marriage days, things were pretty equal in most respects. WHen the kids were babies I was semi employed and followed his job moves. Once the kids were old enough and I was bored enough, I returned to work full time and he changed jobs to follow my career move. Now, I am in the more supportive role again. I hope this will balance out in the future. As soon as the kids are in college...I will look for my dream job and he has agreed to follow me wherever and become my slave..he won't have kids to contend with so I expect absolute devotion and support in about 5 year's time! Can't wait!

Posted by: samclare | December 20, 2007 10:14 AM

I suspect you'll find that long-established roles are more difficult to alter than you expect. Not to be cynical, but realistic - the woman almost always shoulders more of the family sustaining chores, even when the family consists of two "equal" partners. Apologies to SAHDs.

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 10:18 AM

What's more interesting to me than the results pertaining to the women is the men. It doesn't matter what job the men do or how many hours, only that they are working for pay. Don't you think this points to a societal standard that men are still viewed as primary breadwinners? The stigma for a man without a paycheck remains enormous. Isn't that why SAHDs are viewed with such fascination? Do we wonder if men who stay home are really still men of worth? How are all these SAHDs getting any satisfaction, if having kids is not related to satisfaction in men? The men must be investing vast amounts of emotional energy in their support groups!

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 10:24 AM

Re: this study - it's interesting, but as has been pointed out above, there's research that produced different results, so I'm not sure how much stock I'd put into it.

In my own case, based on personal experience I'm happiest when DW is working in a job she loves. Next down the happiness list was when she was a SAHM, and at the bottom was when she worked a job she absolutely hated.

During DW's last couple of years as a Fed, she hated her job; she was mostly working for the money. I was very unhappy, too - I felt bad that I didn't make enough money for her to quit; I felt bad that she was so unhappy; and I was unhappy that she seemed to take a lot of her frustrations out on me.

DW quit and became a SAHM when I got a couple of promotions and made more money, and day care and commuting/work-related costs had risen to the point where her effective take-home pay was below minimum wage. She was a lot happier then than she had been working, and I was a lot happier, too.

Towards the end, though, with the kids older and me gone more, DW wasn't quite as happy - she missed the interaction with other people and the accomplishment of a job. So she went back to work, this time in the school system. I'm happiest of all, and I think she is too, even though her pay is a lot less than it used to be (but we don't have the day care expenses, so it doesn't need to be.)

Yes, I know that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data" but that's my story. "Happiness" comes from a good job she likes, and us working together.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | December 20, 2007 10:35 AM

It makes sense to me for my marriage because we both work in full-time, professional jobs, and because of that, we can completely relate to each other. Especially when we need to have a good b*tch-fest about some stupid politics going on at the office, or worries about the quality of projects we're getting, etc. If we weren't "in the same boat" together, I honestly don't know how we'd have that connection and really be able to support and understand each other.

Along those lines, I often wonder how a couple with one parent SAH and one working are able to relate to each other (if they could at all). 'Course, that's just me...

Posted by: Corvette1975 | December 20, 2007 10:45 AM

More anecdote:

For us I think this study reflects our reality.

When I was at home, and even when I was WAHM PT, my husband and I had very different rhythms and patterns to our day. It did lead to some resentments and arguing

I would take the position that he wasn't pulling his weight parenting and always defaulting to me, but he might disagree. :) But also the further out of the full-time workplace I got, the easier it was to forget that work IS tiring and stressful sometimes as well as rewarding, so I was losing side of his struggles.

Since I've gone back to work ft our partnership has re-established itself and he's much more hands on with our son and I am much happier and more relaxed.

So yes, for us, it's totally true.

I don't think that this would be the case if either of us were unhappy with where our son was, though, and that's a huge deal. We are lucky in having a very good, small, low children-to-caregiver ratio Montessori for our son. We're also lucky in swinging our shifts a little so that he isn't in care for long long hours, and he gets "daddy time" in the morning and "mummy time" in the evening, and full family time around that.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | December 20, 2007 10:46 AM

"Are working women happier?" is the wrong question. Are their children happier in day care or with a SAHM, that is the proper question. The author's notion that "equality in marriage makes for happier kids and a more stable union" is untested, to say the least.

Posted by: mucus99 | December 20, 2007 10:49 AM

mucus99

"Are their children happier in day care or with a SAHM, that is the proper question."

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Posted by: chittybangbang | December 20, 2007 10:52 AM

"It doesn't matter what job the men do or how many hours, only that they are working for pay."

Posted by: babs1206 | December 20, 2007 10:24 AM

It also matters that this UK study interviewed Englishmen. No matter how lowly, how mean the job he holds down, an Englishman can take glorious pride simply in being an Englishman. Sir W. S. Gilbert said so:

"He, humble, poor, and lowly born,
The meanest in the port division
The butt of epauletted scorn
The mark of quarter-deck derision
Has dared to raise his wormy eyes
Above the dust to which you'd mould him,
In manhood's glorious pride to rise,
He is an Englishman, behold him!

"He is an Englishman!
For he himself has said it,
And it's greatly to his credit,
That he is an Englishman!

"For he might have been a Roosian,
A French, or Turk, or Proosian,
Or perhaps Itali-an!
.
"But in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations,
He remains an Englishman!"
-- from "H. M. S. Pinafore" (1878)

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 10:54 AM

It all depends on how they phrase the questions. If you ask me as a working parent if I feel stressed about the messy state of my household, I'll say yes. But if you ask me if I'd be happier being home to clean it up -- NOT!

Posted by: anne.saunders | December 20, 2007 10:58 AM

I don't think you can underestimate the satisfaction of having the extra money.

Even if a couple pools their money they have more when both work.

Love and family aside, cash for this and that makes a guy and a gal a bit happier. While my father handed his check over to my mother the expectation/attitude about that has shifted since then.

I know that many husbands of stay-at-home Mom's are happy that she is doing that for the children. But I suspect they also have moments of envy towards their friend/co-workers who have that extra cash around and the freedom it brings to get something for yourself that you want.

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 20, 2007 10:58 AM

corvette1975: "I often wonder how a couple with one parent SAH and one working are able to relate to each other (if they could at all)"

For us, it really wasn't any different, but then our jobs were so different when we were both working FT. I'm an engineer; she was an analyst. It was hard to relate what I was doing at work with what she was doing, so it really was no different during those years she was a SAH. I guess we communicate our work-related (and her SAH-related) frustrations in general terms, rather than having the ear of someone who truly understands how stupid the boss is because he wants us to be a CMMI level 4 organization by six months from now.

RedBird27: "I know that many husbands of stay-at-home Mom's are happy that she is doing that for the children. But I suspect they also have moments of envy towards their friend/co-workers who have that extra cash around and the freedom it brings to get something for yourself that you want."

You betcha! I would not be where I am in my career today without DW supporting all of my foreign travel and weird work hours, and that mostly only worked while she was a SAH - but on the other hand, seeing couples with two full-time wage earners and the extra stuff they had did make me a bit jealous. I think it comes down to what matters more to a couple, and there's no right or wrong to that except what's right or wrong to THAT couple.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | December 20, 2007 11:05 AM

Matt wrote:
"It also matters that this UK study interviewed Englishmen"

Uh yeah. Big time. The workplace is very different in Western Europe with far more family friendly policies and a government who has not declared open season on the average worker. It's different enough IMO that we should call into question the validity of extrapolating this study's results to American worker.

Posted by: HokieAnnie | December 20, 2007 11:05 AM

I'm not sure it's the money that makes me happy as much as the opportunity to use my skills in the larger world and gain recognition for that. At home, well, I'm just great at pouring juice and passing out sippy cups but for some reason, no one's terribly impressed. For me it's a question of balance -- I need adult challenges and little kid hugs and runny noses to wipe in equal measure!

Posted by: anne.saunders | December 20, 2007 11:06 AM

"Are their children happier in day care or with a SAHM, that is the proper question. The author's notion that 'equality in marriage makes for happier kids and a more stable union' is untested, to say the least."

Posted by: mucus99 | December 20, 2007 10:49 AM

Substitute "healthier" for "happier" above, and do a study, and let us know which children are healthier. Or, if researchers have already done such studies, go find them and tell us which children are healthier, or whether there is any difference.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 11:10 AM

"The Job Satisfaction and Family Happiness survey also found that job satisfaction for women with partners is greater when they work part-time, irrespective of how small or large these jobs are."

So, I guess the solution is for all women to work part-time?

Posted by: wtf | December 20, 2007 11:14 AM

Looking at the original study more closely, women show an increase in LIFE satisfaction when they have kids ONLY when the kids are attending school. Can we take that to mean that kids too young for school are more work than any potential happiness they bring you? Or is it that women commonly pick up part-time work when the kids go to school. Women's JOB satisfaction and HOURS satisfaction is influenced by working part-time. Of course it is! Part-timers are less likely to have to deal with the politics of work - they're in and out, and often don't have to think about career progression. There's a difference in how you view a career, and how you view a JOB. Lastly, "women's LIFE satisfaction is virtually unaffected by hours of work." The study does not address whether women's LIFE satisfaction is affected by the presence of children.

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 11:15 AM

It's a nor'easter.

"If you know you'll feel better as a working mom, pick a husband who is willing and able to support your decision. If you know you'll feel better as a stay-at-home mom, pick a husband who is wlling and able to support you. If you were happy being raised by a stay-at-home mom, and you want your children to have the same privilege you had, pick a wife who is willing and able to be a stay-at-home mom"

Sounds great in theory, but as we all know, surprising things can and do happen once the couple becomes parents.

So, know yourself. Be prepared to be surprised (by yourself, by your kid(s), by your partner). Flexibility and creativity are premiums for marriage and raising kid(s).

I hope everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the winter festivities. I think it's *almost* time to do the snow dance.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 20, 2007 11:15 AM

If you were happy being raised by a stay-at-home mom, and you want your children to have the same privilege you had, pick a wife who is willing and able to be a stay-at-home mom, and don't let any studies -- especially studies done in a foreign country -- discourage you.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 10:03 AM

There are many great reasons why a couple might choose to have one spouse stay home with the kids.

Is every part of you childhood experience a "privilege", or is it simply all you knew? Heck, by that standard nickel candybars and glass thermoses are "privileges".

The idea that a man should duplicate the only thing he knew - simply because he liked it as he looks back with the hazy, self-centered, rose-colored view of adulthood - makes about as much sense as considering a ranch house with an avocado kitchen, or large colored Christmas tree bulbs (the kind that started many a fire) an essential part of your life plan, because he wants his kids to have the same "privileges".

Posted by: mn.188 | December 20, 2007 11:16 AM

I forgot to add this, but I bet no one here an infallible crystal ball. Most people do the best they can with who they are and what they have at the time. Spouse, kids, families, pets, homes, few things come with really iron-clad guarantee.

Except houses. I guarantee something expensive will break when you are flat-broke.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 20, 2007 11:18 AM

As a gay man without children, I am often puzzled that so-called straight people, married and with children, seem these days more concerned for their own well-being than that of their children. Note how few people raised the question of the well-being of the children in homes where both parents work. And one could go further, do these parents think about the state of the world they are bequeathing to their children? What is parental love in our day? Sometimes I wonder if it exists anymore. Oh how self-centered we all have become.

Posted by: rgustafs | December 20, 2007 11:21 AM

rgustafs
I want to model being a happy mother to my two girls and I do so by balancing professional work and caregiving. When they were younger, I did stay home with them because that's what worked best for us. But was there a need to do that forever? Do I want them to be miserable self-sacrificing Moms when they grow up and raise their children? No. I want them to know work and caregiving are both important jobs and doing both will require making different choices along the way. It's not all or nothing. That's why the danged blog is called "On Balance."

Posted by: anne.saunders | December 20, 2007 11:36 AM

People - just keep in mind what the study focuses on: happiness. The "other studies" are examining a different issue: preference for working full-time/pt/sah, not happiness. Two different dependent variables here, it's comparing apples to oranges. And, both studies can still be right. People might say they would prefer to stay home, but those that actually do stay at home are less happy than those who work. It doesn't mean people don't love their kids, it just means that employment is socially valued, gives people recognition (a job well done!), money, status, interaction with adults, etc. Parenthood is less socially valued in both Europe and the U.S., other than the lip service we pay to it.

Posted by: campbell.373 | December 20, 2007 11:43 AM

Re: happiness. I think there are people who are predisposed to be happy regardless of their situation, and people who will be miserable no matter what happens. And the vast majority is in between. I also think (and I believe that there's rather recent science that backs me up, but I'm running late to a meeting and so can't look for it) that it's a genetic thing. Just as depression and so forth runs in families, so does happiness.

Posted by: wtf | December 20, 2007 11:51 AM

As a (very hard-)working mother of a seven month old, I think there's a lot to be said on this topic. But, in general I sense that it's about balance and being fulfilled on more than one level. I think men are happier when their spouses work because staying at home all day with a child (or children) can make for a very small and often lonely world. This creates an environment where little things can fester and create problems in a marriage. Both sexes need to have things (and people) outside that engage them; children are lovely, but adults need other outlets and venues to express frustration, happiness, bordem and other human emotions. When you spend all your time around children (especially when their your own), another person's perceived shortcomings become a kind of hobby, and that's not good for anyone.

Posted by: Soujourner | December 20, 2007 11:54 AM

I am interested that only the gay guy thinks the children's well-being is a legitimate area of concern, while all others are scornful or dismissive!

Posted by: mucus99 | December 20, 2007 11:57 AM

Okay, I've read the whole thing. There's a lot of stuff we already knew, but here's a shocker: for couples with children, women are more satisfied with their lives if their partner works overtime hours. Men with children are more satisfied with their lives if their partners work fulltime. Is this about money, or about being able to skip seeing your partner?

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 12:02 PM

AmyBrat

"You betcha! I would not be where I am in my career today without DW supporting all of my foreign travel and weird work hours, and that mostly only worked while she was a SAH "

Not sure where you are today in your career...& why you needed to be married to get there...? How far could your wife have gone if she were better educated and/or ambitious?

Posted by: chittybangbang | December 20, 2007 12:04 PM

"People - just keep in mind what the study focuses on: happiness." Actually, its about satisfaction, which is another kettle of fish! You can be happy, but still yearn for something more, that is, unsatisfied.

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 12:04 PM

"Is every part of you childhood experience a "privilege", or is it simply all you knew? Heck, by that standard nickel candybars and glass thermoses are "privileges".

"The idea that a man should duplicate the only thing he knew . . ."

Posted by: mn.188 | December 20, 2007 11:16 AM

Most of the men I know don't want their childen to have the same as they had in childhood. They want their kids to have more, to enjoy more privileges, to go farther in life, than they did. That's why these men work so hard. If I enjoyed nickel candy bars, I want my kids to enjoy dime candy bars.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 12:10 PM

"Along those lines, I often wonder how a couple with one parent SAH and one working are able to relate to each other (if they could at all). 'Course, that's just me..."

Answer - in the nude! What a silly question. Is your work the only thing composing who you are? Is it the only thing in which you are interested? How do people married to FBI employees relate?

I love being a SAHM and I think my husband truly enjoys the benefits for him that come from that. I've said this before, everything on the home front is taken care of. He can focus on his career while he is at work. There is no juggling, no figuring out who can pick up the child or stay home for the repair man; the weekends are for family time, not errands. I also understand that this is in the context of having enough money to do this and be comfortable.

For me at least, it isn't about working or not, it is about having the opportunity to do things that you find fulfilling and rewarding. If you have those things in your life, surely you will both be happier. When the kids were very young, absolutely we BOTH sacrificed, but now that they are older my husband is able to focus more on his work which he enjoys or take a weekend away or go golfing and I am able to volunteer and engage in things that I find personally fulfilling and unrelated to my children. I know many WOHM feel they are a good example to their children and I hope that I am as well. I support them and give of my time to others that can use my talents - whether I receive a paycheck for that is immaterial to me and I hope them. That's my 2 cents.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 12:14 PM

As a gay man without children, I am often puzzled that so-called straight people, married and with children, seem these days more concerned for their own well-being than that of their children. Note how few people raised the question of the well-being of the children in homes where both parents work. And one could go further, do these parents think about the state of the world they are bequeathing to their children? What is parental love in our day? Sometimes I wonder if it exists anymore. Oh how self-centered we all have become.

rgustafs: maybe if you had children or a partner you'd understand that love and caring doesn't necessarily involve my personally having to be with my son 24/7. The groundedness and joy I get from working spills over into the hours we have.

As a very personal example when I was home, at about 4 pm I would be so tired of the toddler world and unhappy that the hours from 4-7 were basically just getting through them... I love my son immensely and didn't yell or anything, but I really DID NOT provide a great experience at that time. Sometimes I resorted to tv, sometimes I made up errands, sometimes I just laid on the floor.

When I went back to work, suddenly we got that time back. Yes, I'm away from my son during lunch, nap, and playtime to 4:30. But when I pick him up I'm not just trying to make it to bedtime. I'm glad to see him and I have the energy to play on the floor. Bedtime isn't a battle any more but a time to reconnect.

In a way we shifted our time. I know that's dangerously close to a "quality vs. quantity time" argument and I do agree that with young kids especially quantity counts too.

But nothing in my pre-WOHM life prepared me for just how much better some things would be - for my son, too.

I also think it is a particular form of hubris for a parent to think that his or her SOLE presence is the dividing line between happiness and unhappiness for a child. My son has had to be away from me and that was hard, but he has also learned that other people will care for him and hug him and share cool stuff with him.

My mother was a SAHM and she was miserable, and her misery seeped into most corners of my life and it was awful. A few hours of daycare a day would have been way preferable, trust me.

So before you get on your high horse about what's good for kids, it's not a bad idea to consider that maybe they can be okay with both parents working, too. It's not all mayhem and horror, honest.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | December 20, 2007 12:15 PM

I believe my husband is happier having me at home with our children than he would be if I wasn't, because frankly, his life would be harder if he had to share the cooking, cleaning, and more of the childcare. That's not to say he's lazy or that I'm trying to be a martyr about it; it's just a fact that he has more free time the way it is.

"Can we take that to mean that kids too young for school are more work than any potential happiness they bring you?"

My answer to this question is "no!" Even if you don't find enough happiness from staying home with your young children to offset the work, in my opinion children too young for school are less work than older children. If anything, I'd say it's more stressful to go back to work after your children are older and try to juggle activities, taking them to and from school, homework, aftercare, demands of the parent from the school and athletic teams and musical groups and clubs and what have you. It doesn't make sense to me that this would make a person happier (although obviously it does for many people or the study wouldn't show that!)

"I think men are happier when their spouses work because staying at home all day with a child (or children) can make for a very small and often lonely world."

I think this depends on what the SAHP is doing with her life and her world. I have never been lonely or felt like my world was small since I became a SAHM. If anything, I have more time to go out and meet people whom I truly want to spend time with - not just those who sit in the cubicle next to me. I have more time to read and attend events in my town that interest me, because I'm not in an office all day. Sure, if a person sees their spouse lonely and feeling confined they are going to think "maybe it would be better if they went back to work." But it's not the only solution to the problem.

"I am interested that only the gay guy thinks the children's well-being is a legitimate area of concern, while all others are scornful or dismissive!"

I'm not scornful or dismissive of this at all; I think the well-being of the children is vitally important. However, for the purposes of this discussion we're talking about the happiness of the parents. And I personally feel you can do what's best for your children AND be happy yourself. Not to say "if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" - but to first concern yourself with your children and then find a way to make that situation happy for you and for your spouse.

Posted by: SusieQ | December 20, 2007 12:22 PM

Thank you Shandra -- well said!

Posted by: anne.saunders | December 20, 2007 12:22 PM

""Along those lines, I often wonder how a couple with one parent SAH and one working are able to relate to each other (if they could at all). 'Course, that's just me..."

Answer - in the nude! What a silly question. Is your work the only thing composing who you are? Is it the only thing in which you are interested? How do people married to FBI employees relate?"

I second moxiemom. My husband and I often talk about his work, because I was in the same field before I became a SAHM. But more often, we talk about current events, politics, religion, our families, entertainment news, oh, and our children. Just like most every married couple with children in the world. Unless you're married to the guy sitting in the next office over who has the exact degrees you do from the same universities and who has the same clients as you and goes to lunch at the same place you do.


Posted by: SusieQ | December 20, 2007 12:29 PM

I think campbell hit the nail on the head -- I don't see any inconsistencies with the various studies. If you asked me my ideal, I'd probably say I'd rather work less and spend more time with my kids. But the reality of doing so probably wouldn't make me as happy as I expected it to -- more money stress, less career satisfaction, etc. The grass is always greener.

There's been a fair bit of study lately about how what we think we want isn't really what makes us happy, and I suspect that is what is leading to the apparent inconsistencies between the studies. If someone asks me whether I'd rather spend more time with my kids if money wasn't a concern, ummmm, duh. I'd also rather be a rock star, if talent wasn't a concern. But in the real world, here in dangit-I-missed-the-MegaMillions-numbers-again land, money is almost always concern. Any choice you make is going to have tradeoffs, and I suspect a good chunk of happiness involves minimizing the stuff that keeps you up at night. Do I worry about my kids in daycare? Not so much; I was in daycare pretty early on, so I know what it is and never grew up in an environment where that was demonized. If I didn't work, would I worry about paying the mortgage, paying for college, my husband losing his job (btdt), having enough to retire on? You betcha.

And, yeah, my husband is MUCH happier with me working. Having lost a few jobs (including one right before we had a baby and we were counting on him to be the main breadwinner), he really appreciates not having to bear that whole burden himself. Now, when he's unhappy, he knows he can quit any time. He's told me several times that that's the best gift I could ever give him.

But I do agree strongly with Matt that everyone needs to decide this for him- or herself. I have a strong desire for a career; I have friends who just as strongly wanted to take care of their family full-time. Those friends would be as miserable living my life as I would be living theirs. I think real happiness -- real satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment, of knowing you're doing what you're supposed to do in this life -- comes from having a purpose and living true to it, as best you can.

Posted by: laura33 | December 20, 2007 12:31 PM

"I love being a SAHM and I think my husband truly enjoys the benefits for him that come from that. I've said this before, everything on the home front is taken care of. He can focus on his career while he is at work. There is no juggling, no figuring out who can pick up the child or stay home for the repair man; the weekends are for family time, not errands."

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 12:14 PM

This is all very well for you and your husband. You're both happy. But what about your husband's female colleague who does not have a stay-at-home wife or one of the hard-to-find-even-in-2007 stay-at-home husbands? These colleagues have to do the same job as your husband, but they also have to worry about housework and child care -- the "home front," the "second shift." Aren't you concerned that by providing all these services to your husband, you are enabling him to outcompete his female colleagues? And that the ready availability of stay-at-home wives and mothers is one reason why the overwhelming proportion of top executives are men, and even the top executive women are disproportionately childfree? Aren't you letting down the Sisterhood? What would Simone de Beauvoir or Andrea Dworkin or Susan Moller Okin say if they were alive? What would Linda Hirshman say?

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 12:36 PM

Aren't you concerned that by providing all these services to your husband, you are enabling him to outcompete his female colleagues? And that the ready availability of stay-at-home wives and mothers is one reason why the overwhelming proportion of top executives are men, and even the top executive women are disproportionately childfree? Aren't you letting down the Sisterhood? What would Simone de Beauvoir or Andrea Dworkin or Susan Moller Okin say if they were alive? What would Linda Hirshman say?


Boo hoo for them. If they are colleagues of my husband then they are making pretty good money. Simone de Beauvoir would probably say "Allez ma belle". Feminism is about choice not making the same choices as men. Maybe, just maybe my husband can outcompete these fictional women because he is better than they are. What a silly question. Do SAHDs diminish my husband - I think not.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 12:44 PM

Hey wait. As a member of the Sisterhood I say go for it, SAHMs. :-)

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | December 20, 2007 12:45 PM

Yes, SAHMs and SAHDs do place those of us without these supports at a disadvantage! I would love to have someone at home to make my dinner, take care of laundry and errands, and handle my bill-paying. I have to juggle all that for myself, AND work at a demanding career. I've wished for husband or housekeeper thousands of times. I would have more time to devote to career advancement if I didn't have to plan the rest of my life.

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 12:56 PM

Those of us without spouses and children are struggling to find balance just as much as those with families. Its not fun being thought of as having no life beyond work; when you're single, its just assumed that you can put in the extra time, take the out-of-town assignment, and work the holidays.

Posted by: babsy1 | December 20, 2007 12:59 PM

I would love to have someone at home to make my dinner, take care of laundry and errands, and handle my bill-paying. I have to juggle all that for myself, AND work at a demanding career.

Babs1206

Two words for us all: house elf.

'Tis the season, right?

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 20, 2007 1:01 PM

"Along those lines, I often wonder how a couple with one parent SAH and one working are able to relate to each other (if they could at all). 'Course, that's just me..."

Are you assuming that most SAHPs have never worked? If so, then I guess you may have a point. But I'd be willing to bet that most SAHPs have been in the workforce before, and thus can relate to their spouse's experience, even if it's not what they're currently doing every day.

As far as spouses of SAHPs being jealous or unhappy that their spouses don't work, DH and I have discussed this issue extensively. In fact, it was my biggest reason not to want to be a SAHM. I did not (and still do not) want DH to feel like he's trapped into supporting our family or that he can't follow his dreams. So far, he feels like he's got the best part of our bargain, with me at home. If that ever changes, I'll be dusting off my resume immediately.

Posted by: newsahm | December 20, 2007 1:03 PM

"I think men are happier when their spouses work because staying at home all day with a child (or children) can make for a very small and often lonely world."

Agree with SusieQ on this one. When DW was a SAHM, she was NOT shut up in the house with just the kids to interact with all day. She was actively volunteering for a number of causes, enjoying her hobbies, and taking classes to broaden her mind. She just did this at times when I could take off to be with the kids, or when we could get a sitter (usually a neighborhood teenager) to take care of them.

"SAHM" is what you make of it.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | December 20, 2007 1:05 PM

newsahm is my favorite blogger.

Posted by: atb2 | December 20, 2007 1:10 PM

chitty, you've got me professing my undying love for you today on multiple WaPo blogs. You should be either happy or very, very nervous. :-)

"Not sure where you are today in your career...& why you needed to be married to get there...?"

Where am I today? In a very, very good place, judging by the quality of work I get to do, the freedom and flexibility I have to do it, and the good feelings I get when I've accomplished something meaningful. (And I bet you thought I was going to mention money. :-)

Why did I need to be married to get here? Well, I guess I didn't HAVE to be married, but look at some of babs' posts. It's nice when you're off in Asia for a one week trip that turns into a four-week trip, and there's somebody back home taking care of the house and the dog, paying the bills, keeping the car running, etc. Having a supportive spouse can make a lot of things easier.

"How far could your wife have gone if she were better educated and/or ambitious?"

She could have gone as far as she wanted; she's quite a talented individual. Well-educated as well. As far as I can tell, the only questionable thing she's ever done is marrying me - but that mistake's made and I'm not giving her a chance to change her mind. :-)

See, chitty - who else on this blog would set me up with questions like these? Mmmwwahhh!

Posted by: ArmyBrat | December 20, 2007 1:12 PM

Two words for us all: house elf.

'Tis the season, right?

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 20, 2007 01:01 P

Not everybody has good luck with the house elves. Everytime I get a good one they run away with the laundry fairy.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 20, 2007 1:20 PM

Does this study take into account the ages of the children involved? I would guess that more women are at-home with infants and kids under the age of 3, and I'm guessing that women with kids in this age group are generally somewhat more tired, stressed out, etc. than women with older children. Since a larger percentage of the working mothers are going to have older kids, I would guess this would tend to scew the results.

Posted by: floof | December 20, 2007 1:23 PM

"Agree with SusieQ on this one. When DW was a SAHM, she was NOT shut up in the house with just the kids to interact with all day. She was actively volunteering for a number of causes, enjoying her hobbies, and taking classes to broaden her mind. She just did this at times when I could take off to be with the kids, or when we could get a sitter (usually a neighborhood teenager) to take care of them.

"SAHM" is what you make of it."

All the time after meeting deadline today is making me Ms. McPosty, but I did have to say that my experience was that FOR ME taking a class (when I could teach some) or working on a novel after 9 pm just wasn't the same as being back at my job heading up whatever it is I head up.

It wasn't the "lack of stimulation" that was making me unhappy. (And I was.) I didn't want a hobby. I have hobbies, and continued them, but they are that - hobbies. I totally get for some women their interests are such that they ARE happy doing all the raising/cleaning/caring work, and all power to them - they are equally great and intelligent.

But for me, I have to say it wasn't so. I guess I have been lucky in that my job IS my passion, for the most part.

And as much as I love and adore my son, he is not my intellectual passion. And I'm glad because I think it would be kind of awful to be MY "life's work," because I am a driven kind of gal and it would not be a pretty thing.

I did think that my love for my son would conquer all that and that I would sacrifice to stay home.

And in a sense it would, because if I did think that he was unhappy or damaged AND that the only solution was for me, myself, to stay home - let's say the unthinkable happened and he was abused at daycare and needed the comfort of his family - I would quit and go back home. In a split second. I just would.

But, regular life is not so black and white . At least mine is not.

And you know? That's ok, because it is OKAY to be a person AND a parent. It really is.

It is not okay to abandon your child or leave them in a cockroach ridden hell hole. But it really is okay to bring them on your life's journey. My son didn't get Mrs. Cleaver, he got me. We'll have to wait 20 years for the results, but when I had to make the decision, I just couldn't see telling my son: "yes, I was really unhappy but I stayed home because only I could take care of you, even if that meant your experience of the world was that unhappy people take care of you."

I just had to kind of get that in there.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | December 20, 2007 1:31 PM

floof

"Since a larger percentage of the working mothers are going to have older kids, I would guess this would tend to scew the results."

Do you mean SKEW the results or SCREW the results? Works either way...

Posted by: chittybangbang | December 20, 2007 1:32 PM

"I have hobbies, and continued them, but they are that - hobbies. I totally get for some women their interests are such that they ARE happy doing all the raising/cleaning/caring work, and all power to them - they are equally great and intelligent"

Do you know many SAHMs? Because all we do is clean and crafts! Back to the scapbooking.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 1:51 PM

"Do you know many SAHMs? Because all we do is clean and crafts! Back to the scapbooking."

Chill out moxiemom1, I was a SAHM for two years. I'm just saying FOR ME, nope, wasn't satisfying to volunteer in the hours my husband was home, etc.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | December 20, 2007 1:59 PM

chitty-
woops! skew, yes. Obviously, I am in the sleep-deprived camp I am describing in my post.

Posted by: floof | December 20, 2007 2:03 PM

"newsahm is my favorite blogger."

Aw, thanks!

"I would guess that more women are at-home with infants and kids under the age of 3, and I'm guessing that women with kids in this age group are generally somewhat more tired, stressed out, etc. than women with older children."

And, see, I'd think parents of littles would be happier and less stressed. Having a toddler is like living with a cuddly court jester. You get to spend a lot of time outside, they're reasonably portable, they still (usually) nap long enough for basic household tasks to be accomplished, and when they're awake, they're very entertaining. (now, mind you, I have only one kid, and DH and tend to be very relaxed about household standards, so YMMV. ) I've always figured things will get less fun as DD gets older, but by then I'll be going back to work.

Posted by: newsahm | December 20, 2007 2:06 PM

"I'm just saying FOR ME, nope, wasn't satisfying to volunteer in the hours my husband was home, etc."

I'm just saying that that's not what you said. You said raising/cleaning/caring and hobbies. I was simply correcting your pretty narrow description of the SAHM life. No wonder people think it is so lousy. If it was just raising/cleaning/caring, I wouldn't do it either. It changes drastically when the children start school.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 2:23 PM

newsahm-

Ah, I have one of those energizer bunnies who gave up napping at 18 months and is now in the throes of the terrible twos! She's a great kid, believe me, but I just wish I had half her energy. 'Course if I went to bed at 7, I probably would :).

Posted by: floof | December 20, 2007 2:33 PM

The way I look at it (and sorry, Moxie) is that, as a SAHM, you pay dearly at first, looking after the littles ones (MY kids certainly weren't cuddly court jesters as toddlers, I can guarantee you) and doing all the boring, stressful and messy work required. Once the kids start going to school, you're home free, living the good life.

Posted by: StickyNote | December 20, 2007 2:36 PM

Sticky you are actually right on. When the kids ere tiny, I used to joke that I had a time IRA and when the kids both started full day I would spend a little time just making withdrawls. They aren't full day yet, but I have been able to carve out a little "me" time during the day that makes the whole deal much easier. The pace isn't so relentless and the job changes. They don't need me physically as much but the problems are bigger and there is more worrying. I also spend more time running around so while my morning is peaceful, my afternoon/evenings can be frenetic between activities and trying to get dinner on the table. As I've said to my husband, in this job, when I win I win big but when I lose I lose big - not a whole lot of in between. WOuldn't trade it - but then again, talk to me in a few years, things might have changed. Things can always change.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 3:40 PM

A LITTLE me time, Moxie? With all that blogging you do?

Just kidding - not that I don't blog... I just do it from the office :-)

And I agree completely - as the kids get bigger, there is much more running around a logistics to worry about. But, to me, that's still waaay less exhausting (physical and, above all, mental) than the little-kids stuff.

Posted by: StickyNote | December 20, 2007 3:45 PM

"I'm just saying that that's not what you said. You said raising/cleaning/caring and hobbies. I was simply correcting your pretty narrow description of the SAHM life. No wonder people think it is so lousy. If it was just raising/cleaning/caring, I wouldn't do it either. It changes drastically when the children start school."

Well true enough, my baby was little, so no clue what happens at that point. I think raising is a lot of work. So what part of it did I not capture?

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | December 20, 2007 3:46 PM

"Simone de Beauvoir would probably say 'Allez ma belle.' Feminism is about choice not making the same choices as men. . . . Maybe, just maybe my husband can outcompete these fictional women because he is better than they are.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 12:44 PM

Maybe the fictional Simone de Beauvoir would say, "Allez ma belle," but in a 1975 interview with Betty Friedan, the real-life Simone de Beauvoir summed up her attitude. When asked if women should have the choice to stay home and raise their children, she responded: "Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one." (Source: Simone de Beauvoir, "Sex, Society, and the Female Dilemma: a dialogue between Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir", Saturday Review, 14 June 1975, p. 18.)

"What a silly question. " (moxiemom)

Sure, it's a silly question. I was just fooling around. Like I wrote earlier today, each couple decides for themselves.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 20, 2007 4:29 PM

Oh Matt, you silly boy! wink. I re-read your post and thought your tongue was in your cheek, but one never can be sure. Such an enigma are you!

Shandra, suffice it to say that I'm sure you are not an accountant (or whatever your profession) every minute of your life, neither am I a caretakere/housekeeper every minute of mine. Sure, raising is a lot of work, so is being a lawyer, but they do not exclude other pursuits. Gotta go.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 20, 2007 4:33 PM

"Like I wrote earlier today..."

Now we KNOW Matt has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, because a Harvard alum would never make such a grammatical faux pas unwittingly.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 20, 2007 4:54 PM

"I would be about to turn 30 when graduating from law school. She asked if I was going to wait til I graduated to have kids."

JEGS, in case you come back to check in this late - have you thought about having a baby while in law school? That's what I did and it worked out really well for us. My son was born in the fall of my third year. I had already done a summer associate gig at a firm, and so had made that connection for future jobs (although I didn't end up going back there). I went down to part time and finished law school two semesters after the class I started with; which let me have a lot of time with my son as an infant while still working towards my degree. Then I went back to work full time when he was a little over a year. Just a thought. I think it can be hard to take maternity leave in your first few years with a firm, before you have a solid network and reputation, so doing that before hand made it easier for me.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 20, 2007 5:45 PM

Just what I did. My husband and I decided to have kids early so they would be old enough for pre-school when I got my MA.
Having kids means I can only study part-time, but it also means we are far more flexible when things come up with the kids - which happens often.

On the downside, we are out of sync with people around us at the moment (people our age are just now getting married; parents with children our age are in their mid-to-late thirties), but that is getting better - and the kids are now old enough to spend a week or two with their grandparents/aunts while we have a two-person vacation.

I'm in the group that is far more happy when I am doing *something* other than childcare on the side. The sweet spot for me seems to be between 4 and 6 hours a day working/studying/time without the kids.

I do freelance translating from home and even though what I get for that is a drop in the bucket compared to what my husband makes, it gives me something that taking care of the kids just can't: intellectual stimulation, contact with the professional world and money to spend on non-essentials.

Posted by: enkafiles | December 21, 2007 1:58 AM

I'm a little late answering the question - "Are you happier when your better half is out in the workforce?"

So far, absolutely not. And I've tried it all - just him working with me staying home, both of us working, and just me working. Just him working wasn't enough income - we couldn't afford health care. I loved being home with the kids, but feared the date when our state medical would run out. Both of us working was too stressful, and I told him that either he needed to quit, or I would. He quit his job to be a full-time dad, and it was the right choice for our family.

When he is home, I know I can quit worrying about trying to run the household from my office, and I know that I will probably have time at home to eat dinner before the kids go to bed - because my husband is no longer working late four days a week. I can quit worrying about how many clean clothes the kids have and no longer have to prepare three meals for the kids before I can go to sleep, in case I don't make it home in time for dinner on a day when DH works late - because he now works at home, with our children, doing the most important job in the world.

We're still working out some kinks in the system, but I definitely believe we are on the right path to figuring out the best balance for our individual situation.

Posted by: ethele | December 27, 2007 5:50 PM

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