A report from the London School of Economics says that women want rich husbands not careers. A work-weary Judith Woods agrees
Your husband sweeps through the door this evening, Mad Men style, just as you’ve settled at the kitchen table, slumped over some reports. He strides over, encircles your waist and tells you he’s had such a whopping pay rise that his pretty liddle lady Need Never Work Again.
Do you a) feel insulted by his inherently unegalitarian, outdated patrimony: b) politely demur; after all you’ve spend years effortfully hauling yourself up the career ladder, one broken nail extension at a time or c) rip up your spreadsheets in a joyful frenzy and actually volunteer to have conjugal relations – after you’ve quickly logged on and ordered the Aga?
When I heard the news that these days modern women crave a wealthy breadwinner rather than a high-flying career, I had to pause and think about it. For a nanosecond!
Of course we do! Since when did the bleedin’ obvious qualify as news? Past the age of 35, where two or more of us are gathered together in a room, the talk invariably turns to wistful longings of “getting some chickens”, which as we all know is code for “a property porn house in a shire with Cath Kidston tea towels, Emma Bridgewater crockery and a City husband who is so preposterously well-remunerated he can almost afford the outrageous commuter rail fare rises.”
According to a report researched at the London School of Economics and published by the Centre for Policy Studies, women are more determined than ever to bag a partner who will improve their financial prospects – think Jane Austen, but with Dragon’s Den venture capitalist Deborah Meaden as Mrs Bennett.
“Women’s aspirations to marry up, if they can, to a man who is better-educated and higher earning persists in most European countries,” says the report’s author, Catherine Hakim, a senior research fellow in sociology who is no stranger to controversy, having last year coined the neologisms “erotic capital” and “beauty premium” to describe the key professional attribute of our times.
Presumably this is why, to quote the old joke smart girls get minks, the way minks get minks.
“Women continue to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers,” she concludes. Cue howls of outrage from the sisterhood.
At the risk of being clubbed to death with a copy of the Female Eunuch; what’s so wrong with that? By logical extension, it would appear men are keen to “marry down” , although nobody seems to query, much less gather statistics on, their matrimonial motives.
Apparently in the 1940s, 20 per cent of British women “married up.” By the 1990s that had climbed to
38 per cent, with a similar pattern in Europe, the US and Australia. I would aver this reveals more about social mobility in general than gold-diggers in particular. But even if women are becoming shrewder in their criteria for choosing a mate, surely that makes them sensible rather than cynical?
Look at any female executive returning to work after maternity leave, and once the thrill of wearing proper shoes and being asked her opinion has worn off, a single glass of wine will often see her tearfully confess she’s desperate to get pregnant again so she can give up work, go part-time or set up a kitchen table industry involving local, organic, Fair Trade, biodegradable children’s eco-muffins.
“I was dying to give up work after Number One, but nobody else did, so I felt obliged to stay in my job,” says my friend Elaine, 38, who has two children aged six and two. “There’s an unwritten rule that Number Two means you get to go part-time or give up altogether if your husband earns enough. If you want to make absolutely certain, you brace yourself and have a third, which means you definitely don’t go back to work but it’s murderously hard when they’re all little.”
It’s not then, that women of my generation are lazy (although maybe a little work-weary), just Ready to Reprioritise. Remember you read it here first; and doesn’t it sound intelligently wholesome rather than shockingly retrograde?
For my Girl Power generation, it’s been a bit of a toughie to admit that Having It All really isn’t the same as Having a Ball. As I shoulder-padded my way through the late Eighties, I would never have contemplated marrying for money. Then again, I wouldn’t even let any of my suitors pay for dinner. More fool me.
But does that mean I envy iPhone widows whose high net worth husbands are so immersed in derivatives or mergers they rarely see daylight and forget their children’s names? Yes, but only occasionally, I swear.
Before you judge, let me say I know for a fact – a fact, I tell you – I’m not alone in feeling that I’ve done the whole career thing and now I’d like to try the whole flapjacks and hand-stencilling the nursery thing. If my husband could please just sell a little bit more of his soul?
“I see a lot of previously ambitious women who are very confused by a sudden urge to bake cakes and sew curtains, which totally flies in the face of everything they strived for,” says clinical psychologist Kathleen Cox. “They begin to wonder ‘Who am I?’ because they don’t recognise themselves any more. I see it as a positive thing, because society allows women to question their role, whereas men are expected to knuckle down and keep on doing jobs they may hate.
“Does that mean women are hardwired to stay at home and look after the nest? The longer I live the more I think perhaps, yes.”
Seditious talk maybe, but perhaps it’s time we tackled the ultimate taboo and rehabilitated the “H” word; after all, if you look deep into your social circle, you may discover some of your best friends are housewives in all but name.
“I never refer to myself as a housewife,” says Kate Brown, 37, who gave up her job in the retail industry last year to care for her twin girls, aged 18 months. “If anyone asks me what I do, I simply say I’m micromanaging twins, which is pretty self-explanatory. My husband doesn’t earn a huge amount, but it was more than I did, so it made the decision easier.”
Oliver James, author of the parenting book How Not To F**** Them Up, applauds any couple where mother or father takes childrearing seriously enough to take time out. He has written at length about how the first six years of a child’s life are crucial in safeguarding their future mental health and economic independence.
“I want to see a world where women or men want to care for their children, and if that means ‘marrying up’ to ensure they are bringing their children up in a solvent household, where one of them can stay at home and do the most important job of all, then that’s fine by me,” he says.
Arguably, there’s nothing surprising in these findings. A study by the National Centre for Social Research, commissioned in 2009 by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, revealed that a third of all mothers would prefer to give up their jobs if they could afford to and three fifths said they would want to work fewer hours.
Life coach Fiona Harrald insists that women are only doing what comes naturally, and have been hardwired for millennia to “marry up”. It’s only relatively recently that they have had any other realistic chance of improving their lot in life.
“My mother’s generation couldn’t even open a bank account or enter into a hire purchase agreement to buy a sofa without a husband’s signature,” she says. “These days we can chose to work or choose to concentrate on being at home with our children – that’s the essence of feminism and we should all just calm down, stop being judgmental and get comfortable with the choices we, and other women, make.”
If all things were equal – looks, charm, humour, a decent head of hair – any sensible girl unencumbered by professional ambition would probably choose a prince over a pauper. Just ask Kate Middleton.
And if I’m honest, if I were still 28 and with the benefit of hindsight, I’d do exactly the same. Yes, I once wanted to smash through the glass ceiling. But now, truth be told, I’d much rather polish it. Pass the Windowlene on your way out to work, darling.
YES, says Jemima Lewis
Women want rich husbands… and this is news? Perhaps we don’t often say it – perhaps we don’t even care to admit it to ourselves – but women are practical creatures. A rich husband gives you options.
One of the perks of being female is that you grow up knowing there’s a chance, however slim, that you might be able to marry a gazillionaire and retire from office life before you hit middle age. If you have babies, of course, you’re in for a different kind of work – every bit as gruelling in its way, but at least a change of pace. Most working men (gazillionaires included) are stuck in Groundhog Day for around 50 years, with no prospect of a significant change in their daily routine until they are fit for nothing but retirement and death. It’s amazing, when you think about it, how cheerfully they accept this.
If he is rich enough, your husband might pay for teams of nannies to look after your children while you busy yourself with pilates and managing the estate. Working mothers like me tend to regard such well-kept wives with a disapproving eye. We call them “trophy” wives, as if to distinguish them from the real thing, but that is partly just to distract ourselves from the boiling envy inside.
Whether you fill your days with pilates or child-rearing, not having to work is… well, less like hard work. Unfortunately, it turns out that rich husbands, like handsome princes, are not so easy to come by. This survey, after all, is about women’s aspirations, not their reality.
Most of us, not moving in gazillionaire circles, are likely to fall in love with and marry a more humble Joe. In the meantime, you might have built up a career that you are proud of, and reluctant to give up. If you then have a baby, you are doomed to an inner life of conflict, vacillation and guilt as you try to find a way to bring up your own child without going bankrupt or doolally.
Like a winning lottery ticket, but one you could warm your feet on at night, a rich husband would solve everything at a stroke, allowing you to calibrate your work/life balance to suit yourself, rather than your mortgage provider.
Myself, I’m thrilled to have found a husband at all, and in real life I would no more swap him for Sir Philip Green than he would swap me for Scarlet Johansson (or would he?). What this survey tells us is only this: a girl can dream.
No, says JoJo Moyes
SO, today’s young women, having observed mothers for whom “having it all” seems to mean “having all the domestic responsibility”, “having the odd nervous breakdown” and “still having to wax one’s unmentionables”, have decided they’d prefer a WAG lifestyle.
Who can blame them? There are times – usually when sick children and deadlines collide – that I think the same thing.
But marry rich, and you may marry a man who views you as a commodity. You may spend much of your time alone; a high-flying career often means an absent husband and father. You can marry for money, but it’s not a marriage. It’s a deal. And I suspect only the toughest of women can see that with the clarity it requires.
The divorce courts are littered with high-earners, as well as the shattered dreams of traded-in middle-aged wives. My children have long played a game called “Who’s got the sourest face?” in Waitrose. It’s always the wives in the really expensive cars.
My husband and I have taken turns as the highest earner. Earning my own money means I don’t have to justify my shoe habit, and he doesn’t shoulder the mortgage alone. And having a career brings me more contentment than a designer handbag.
So, I wouldn’t be delighted if my daughter ended up with a yurt-dweller. But I’d feel worse if she thought the most important thing about a man was his bank balance.
Source: The Telegraph