Writer Linda Hirshman wrote more than a decade ago that ambitious women should marry men with less money or social capital then they had. In her book titled Get to Work, she wrote that women should avoid ever taking on more than half of the housework or child care. The key to do it is either by having a man who is extremely committed to equality, or ‘marry down’. But what exactly does it mean to marry down? Well, she explained in the American Prospect that such a choice is not very strategic, but can be very smart.
“If you are devoted to your career goals and would like a man who will support that, you’re just doing what men throughout the ages have done: placing a safe bet.”
Although this is a very controversial topic, Hirshman might be right. A recent study conducted by the Harvard Business School graduates from HBS’s Robin Ely and Colleen Ammerman, and Hunter College sociologist Pamela Stone reported that high-achieving women do not meet the career goals they’ve set for themselves in their 20s for several reasons. It’s not because they’re ‘opting out’ of the workforce when they have kids, but because they have allowed their partners’ careers to take precedence over their own.
But while these women are still working, they are also making more unexpected sacrifices than their male classmates are. When they graduated, more than half of male HBS grads expected their careers would take precedence over their partners’. Only 7 percent of Gen X women and 3 percent of baby boomer women said they expected their careers to take precedence. Here’s what they did expect: The majority of women said they assumed they would have egalitarian marriages in which both spouses’ careers were taken equally seriously.
25,000 men and women were interviewed for the study, all of them who have graduated from Harvard Business School over the past decades. Expectedly, the male graduates were much more likely to be in senior management positions in comparison to their female peers. The reason for this is because while these women are still working, they’re making more unexpected sacrifices when compared to their male peers.
A large part of these women said that spouses’ careers took priority over theirs. However, more than 70 percent of men say that their careers are more important than their wives’. The numbers are even worse when you look at child care responsibilities. More than 86 percent of Gen X and boomer men said that their wives take primary responsibility for child care, and 65 percent of women say that they’re the ones who do most of the child care in their relationships.
Based on these numbers, Hirshman writes that a number of female CEOs have husbands who don’t work. As Xerox’s CEO Ursula Burns said in a 2013 conference:
“The secret to success is to marry someone 20 years older.”
Burns’ husband retired just when she was hitting her career stride, which allowed him to take primary responsibility for their kids. Well, you might want to take that advice if becoming a CEO and having a family is your desire.