Can a career woman be a good wife?


Late last week I was called by a national news program to discuss the story causing all the fuss, a column by Michael Noer which cautioned men: "Whatever you do, don’t marry a woman with a career."

The producer was hoping to find a woman who agreed with Noer. But I had to admit to her that, um, I have a career I love — and I’d like to eventually get married again — so I didn’t think I was a poster-child for the segment.

On the other hand, Noer makes quite a case. Of course he’s driven the feminists completely nuts — easily done, as the typically humorless sisterhood takes itself way too seriously, and in general seems to not like dealing with data — and, yes, he does come across as more than a bit condescending, or was it all tongue-in-cheek? Hard to tell.

Noer looks at an array of studies which show that "professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat (on their spouse) and less likely to have children. If they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it." And if they quit to stay home with the kids? They are more likely to be unhappy about that, too.

Ouch. Still, he could have put it in a way that wasn’t quite so incendiary. But what is everyone getting so bent out of shape about? Noer’s colleague, Elizabeth Corcoran, ran a counter-point piece on cautioning women, "Don’t Marry a Lazy Man," and no one seems to be going into a tizzy over that advice.

Anyway, Noer is talking about women who are on fast track career paths, not working at the local Target to put food on the table. Yes, he says, "many working women are indeed happily and fruitfully married — it’s just that (the data shows) they are less likely to be so than nonworking women."

Noer echoes various economists who simply argue that marriage is a partnership where there is labor specialization. Essentially, when both partners are doing the same job, other jobs aren’t going to get done, or done as well, and misery may be more likely to set in.

Surprisingly, Noer doesn’t mention that married men with non-working wives make more, on average, than those with wives who work. But, duh — they have to peddle harder! And when I think of how much more I might earn if only I had a "wife" doing all my family and children and household chores … wow.

Well, most hysterical blogging about Noer, has, of course, presented really "cogent" arguments that centered on a lot of use of the word "bleep" bag. It might have been a bit more useful to point out it’s a little hard to say what’s causation and what’s correlation. Do hard-charging ambitious people focused on worldly success — arguably those more likely to divorce to begin with — find each other whether they are "working" or not? Maybe. Does being professionally successful allow some woman an "out" that they might not have otherwise had? Probably. But is that always inherently good? Probably not.

In the end, I’m only a poster child for me, I guess. I’ve always made my home life my priority, but long before working was a financial necessity I had a (typically part-time) career simply because I loved it. I believe that work is a wholesome and good thing, not a necessary evil. It was, after all, in the Garden before the fall. I think it’s great for my kids to sometimes hear me say "Go play — I’m working!" And, by the way, I know many educated, fascinating women who, contrary to Noer’s predictions, have happily chosen to take time off altogether from high-powered careers to focus on their families, without resenting it or making their husbands miserable. It does happen.

Maybe making two-career arrangements happen successfully should be openly discussed as an interesting challenge_ after all, isn’t every marriage? Instead, Steve Forbes himself felt he had to apologize for the Noer piece his magazine’s Web site. But that just seems to give more than a little credence to what seems to be Noer’s notion that the sisterhood can make men really miserable.

(Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It." She can be reached at or