We’re in 2019, but it often seems like we’re stuck in time…at about 1952. In my career coaching practice I’m continually amazed to hear lots of women say that their husbands would prefer that they don’t work (even if there is not an excess of household cash).
In a surprising number of households, men think the mothers of their children should keep everything humming with caregiving, chauffeur, household manager, homework overseer, errand runner, and cook roles and skip the professional option. This perspective is increasing over time: the Council on Contemporary Families reports that millennial men, for example, are more supportive of old-school marriages and stay-at-home wives than the young men of 20 years ago.
(And even more surprising—and alarming—is a data point in the recent UBS “Own Your Worth” study: more than any other demographic, millennial women are the most likely to delegate their own financial planning responsibility to a spouse.)
In some cases men just believe a mother’s place is in the home, or it’s an ego thing—more than a few women from middle class and affluent households tell me that their otherwise well-educated husbands like the perceived status of affording a wife who can stay home with the kids.
Whatever the reason and however high the current household income, it’s shortsighted thinking to keep women home. Here are 10 reasons why:
- Your job doesn’t have a lifetime guarantee. Even if you’re flying high now, your professional jet plane could take a nosedive next week. Job security isn’t carved in stone. Remember all those sole breadwinners who lost jobs in the economic downturn? Many never fully recovered. The higher up you are on the corporate ladder, the more vulnerable you are. There are only so many jobs available at or near the top.
- Retirement is crazy expensive. You may have a high salary, a robust 401(k) and what appears to be bulletproof savings, but many people overlook the fact, for example, that Medicare is not full retirement healthcare coverage—or free. Healthview Services reports that a healthy couple retiring in 2018 faced $363,946 in lifetime Medicare and supplemental insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. It’s going to get worse: healthcare is expected to rise 4.2% per year.
- Eldercare is skyrocketing. The annual Genworth Cost of Care Survey delivers sobering news: the median cost of a nursing home stay projected for 2038 is $181,296 and the cost for a home health aide is $90,924—and these figures are for just one year and just one individual.
- Women live longer than men. Chances are that your wife will outlive you. In general women work fewer years, earn less and have less saved in employer-sponsored plans. It’s a little-known fact that women can’t benefit from their own Social Security unless they have at least 10 years of earning credits. Overall, women should participate in shoring up their own longer retirement security needs.
- Up to four aging parents could crack your nest egg. Our parents are living longer than they ever thought they would. You may be diligent about preparing for retirement, but even affluent elderly parents who run out of money for around-the-clock care could be the financial monkey wrench in your plans. If both your parents and in-laws are living, that’s four people who pose a risk to your nest egg.
- You could be forced out of work due to illness or accident. We all tend to take our health for granted, but the reality is that you have a 38% chance of a disability that lasts five years or longer. Not all employers offer disability insurance and not all states require even partial wage replacement. Even if you’re lucky to have this insurance, the average annual benefit is a paltry $14,160. No one thinks it’s silly to insure houses or cars—and a spouse who works and has a current portfolio of skills is insurance against a time you’re not able to earn.
- You never want to be a burden to your kids. If you think that successful kids are only nurtured by mothers who tend to their 24/7 needs, remember that if for some unforeseen reason you run out of money down the road, you and your wife will be a burden to those very same children. The vast majority of less affluent women who have no choice but to work do not raise children who become psychopaths and felons.
- It’s possible to work and be a good mother. Motherhood and the traditional, more than full-time job is a difficult mix. But today women have many more professional options through six kinds of flexwork: flexible full-time and part-time jobs, telecommuting roles (working at home all or part of the time), job shares, occasional freelance projects and longer-term consulting assignments. Add in endless entrepreneurial opportunities and there’s really no reason why women can’t blend work and life. Today women can set their own hours and develop their own brand of ambition and success alongside caregiving for children and aging parents.
- Your wife can be an important role model for daughters—and sons. If you have paid (or are still saving for) the mammoth college tuition bill, you probably hope your kids do something more with the diploma than raise your grandchildren. With that kind of investment most hope kids will be able to support themselves through all life’s twists and turns. Daughters and sons need to see that women are just as capable of funding life and every age and stage.
- Even savings from a small part-time salary adds up over time. Men often put the kibosh on wives working with the rationale, “by the time your small income is taxed in my bracket, it’s not worth it to leave the house.” That’s very short-sighted thinking. If you can pay the mortgage and all the big bills and your wife can save and invest even a smaller part-time income for many years, you’ll both have a significant chunk of extra money for retirement.
And perhaps the greatest reason for your wife to work is #11: two working spouses generally make life more interesting. Sure, motherhood is a noble profession. But motherhood as a singular role is probably better suited for the real nobility. For 99% of couples who don’t have airtight financial security, a two-income household is a better path to long-term financial security and better fodder for conversation over dinner. Many divorces are the result of women being left behind and growing stagnant in domestic un-bliss.
Learn more about why women should always work in my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead. You can also learn about flexwork trends and opportunities in my newsletter: sign up here and you’ll receive my free guide, “6 Flexible Work Options: Which One is Right for You?”