Marry rich, then stay at home: is feminism just a myth?

New research says women want to marry rich and then stay at home. That can't be right...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 11 Jan 2011
Placards down, ladies, and forget all that talk about careers and glass ceilings: new research has found that what women really want is a rich husband so they can stay at home and look after their babies. According to a survey by think tank the Centre for Policy Studies, 69% of women would rather stay at home with their children than go out to work, while 59% of women apparently say the only reason they have jobs is because they felt ‘pressurised by society’ to take them. Sounds suspicious…

The research, by the London School of Economics’ Dr Catherine Hakim (who last cropped up in the press with her research on ‘erotic capital’, the idea that people with good looks or charisma can use those attributes to get ahead in their careers), also scrutinises the gender pay gap. Despite figures to the contrary from the Fawcett Society, which says it currently stands at 15.5%, Dr Hakim says it could actually be ‘as low as 10%’. And gender discrimination is similarly over-hyped: according to the research, the gender pay gap is in place because women tend to opt for more caring-and-sharing jobs like nursing and teaching, which don’t pay as well. In fact, it’s ‘because few women aspire to be engineers or soldiers and few men choose to be nursery teachers and beauticians,’ that there is a ‘low percentage of women in higher-grade jobs’. In other words, it’s all of their own choosing…

Instead, Dr Hakim says women tend to use marriage as a supplement to their incomes, with 64% apparently saying they’d like to marry a man who earns more than them. Which may carry gold-digging connotations, until you rephrase the question to ‘would you like your family’s shared income to be high or low?’, in which case more than 64% of people should be answering ‘yes’. We can also exclusively reveal that 99% of women would rather not experience a miserable, painful death…

What Dr Hakim doesn’t mention is that while men are, indeed, ‘more likely to be careerist’ than their female partners, that’s not necessarily by choice. Research published in November by Lancaster University, for example, showed that for men, flexible working requests are less likely to be granted than for their female counterparts – which means that taking on a portion of the childcare duties, thereby allowing their partners to go out to work, is more difficult for men. And because women tend to earn less (whether it’s by choice or otherwise), it makes more sense for them to stay at home with the children.

So one argument might be that she’s confusing choice with social norm. Take, for example, her opinion on quotas for company boards. Dr Hakim’s research shows that just over a third of women are against it, which gives her grounds to call the idea ‘irresponsible’ and a waste of public money. But where the idea has been put into place (in Norway, for example), there’s been a dramatic change in the attitudes to women in the workplace. And while we’re the first to say that boardroom quotas isn’t a perfect idea – for businesses, it would mean even more red tape – it just goes to show that where a legislative change takes place, a change in social attitudes might just follow.

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