On call at home
With the rise of college-educated, dual-earner power couples, it was realistic to imagine that two people could each work in jobs at the top of their fields and share the duties at home. But at the same time as work became more demanding, family life changed, too.
People are increasingly marrying people with similar educations and career potential — a doctor is likely to be married to another doctor instead of a nurse. Yet the pay gap between husbands and wives is biggest for those with higher education and white-collar jobs. Some parents on elite career paths each continue on them and outsource child care, while others decide not to maximize their family earnings and each take lower-paying, more flexible jobs. But researchers say that because of the changes in work and family, many educated couples are finding that couple equity is out of reach — and many women are left with unused career potential.
“The fundamental problem all along is that someone has to take care of the children,” said Till von Wachter, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “What’s changing here is the assortative mating piece. These women have made all these skills and investments and are not fully reaping those returns.”
It’s affecting more people, because highly educated women are more likely to have children than they recently were. Eighty percent of women in their early 40s with doctorates or professional degrees are mothers, up from 65 percent two decades ago, according to the Pew Research Center. In 1980, only half of women working in the 10 highest-paying occupations were married, and only a third had a child, found research by Marianne Bertrand, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. By 2010, they were slightly more likely to be married than other working women, and just as likely to have a child.
Meanwhile, being a parent, particularly a mother, has become more intensive. Working mothers today spend as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s. The number of hours that college-educated parents spend with their children has doubled since the early 1980s, and they spend more of that time interacting with them, playing and teaching.
The same challenge affects single parents, same-sex parents and couples in which the father is the primary parent. But in opposite-sex couples, when one career takes priority, it’s generally the man’s.
Men are much more likely to have a spouse who’s on call at home, which enables them to reap the benefits of being on call at work, found a new paper by Jill Yavorsky, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and colleagues. Three-quarters of men in the top 1 percent of earners have an at-home spouse. Just a quarter of women in the top 1 percent of earners do — and they are likely to be self-employed, suggesting that they have more control over their hours.