Work and the modern couple

Before the 1960s, the domestic household was governed by 'production complementaries' - a term created by economist Gary S Becker to describe the way in which work naturally divided between men and women after they had married one another.

by Knowledge@Wharton
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

However, social trends since then have changed the facts, say Wharton Professors Bestey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The fact that people live longer and less of them have children has meant that there has been a sharp drop in the number of households with children.

Women are marrying at a later age than in the past (median age in 2004 of 26 in the US, and 28 in the UK), and household appliances such as a washing machines have reduced the need for productive capability in the home. Men and women are more likely, therefore, to join together because they share similar income and interests, which is referred to as 'leisure and consumption complementarities' by Stevenson and Wolfers.

The result of these trends is that the number of years people spend raising children has fallen in relation to the number of years they want to be productive. In the past, women spent most of their productive years looking after children which reduced their incentive to be in the workforce. This is no longer the case, so it is more costly for women to stay out of the labour force.

Women are also staying longer in the workforce even if they are planning to have children. They are waiting until they are in their 30s in many cases. Thus, highly-skilled men and women have the same incentives to invest in their own human capital. Many of the women who have children return to the workforce after a short spell away.

There are some specific management issues to consider as a consequence of the blurring of work and home. For instance, the office will increasingly be regarded as a place where people will meet each other, increasing the number of office romances. Staff also will expect workplaces to offer some elements of home comfort such as well-designed kitchens and lounges. 

Do's and Don'ts: How changes in marriage, divorce and childbirth are redefining the workplace
March 2007

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