One thing that I find unbearably funny about the fall-out from the Forbes article entitled "Don't Marry A Career Woman" is the notion I have seen bandied about that having a career is bad for you if you're a woman because your marriage is more likely to end in divorce. In fact, divorce may be more common among two-career families, as Michael Noer posits (I haven't checked his underlying data), but the conclusion I reach from that is that having a career is good for you if you're a woman. It doesn't necessarily mean that your marriage is more likely to fail -- just that you have the option to walk out if it does.
I am a huge believer that divorce is a wonderful thing. Obviously, it's not fun. It's disappointing and devastating. It can wreak havoc on you emotionally and financially and it can be very rough on your kids (on the other hand, depending on the situation, it might be good for your kids, or at least it may be better than the alternative). But it's a tool for fixing an unhealthy or destructive situation -- that of being shackled to a person who is making you miserable. As Amanda Marcotte has noted in prior posts, it's like surgery -- heart surgery is a miserable, awful experience but it's a great thing because it is a tool to help people avoid the worse alternative of death.
Of course, if you have read this blog long enough, you will know that I view marriage as a serious obligation for those who undertake it. I would be damn pissed if my husband walked out on me because another woman caught his eye or because I had health problems he didn't want to deal with or because he was a fair weather friend who got sick of me while I was going through a difficult period in my life. As a matter of conscience, I certainly view it as my obligation to work through rough patches and to commit to my husband until the end of our lives and I expect the same in return. That's the promise we made to each other.
But sometimes marriages don't work out. It's a positive thing when both parties have the ability to walk away. I don't condone walking away lightly but having that failsafe option of divorce is essential. Sometimes, people turn out not to be what you expect -- even the fabulous person you fell in love with. If I had married my college boyfriend, who certainly seemed hip and fun and progressive and cool at first, I would have gradually found myself putting up with more and more crap until one day I woke up and found myself married to someone who regularly sought to undermine my confidence and my endeavors, a behavior which kind of defeated the purpose of being in a partnership with him. Because we weren't married, I was able to walk away. And if we had been married, I certainly would have opted for divorce.
The problem with Noer's theory is that if one party is dependent on the other financially and has sacrificed developing a future earning capacity, that party is going to be up the creek if she walks away. That kind of imbalance in power is inevitably going to be abused in some marriages, or perhaps even many marriages. (Don't forget that power corrupts.) Suppose hubby has affair after affair, or regularly humiliates his wife, or hits his wife, or engages in any number of nightmare behaviors. A dependent wife is damned if she stays and damned if she goes. So Wife often stays in a horrible marriage. Trust me -- I was a kid who prayed every night for my parents to divorce, yet they never did. And I know I am not the only one out there.
It can't be said too much. Sacrificing the woman's ability to walk aways does not mean that a marriage will be more successful. It just means that the woman doesn't have the means to end a bad situation. Maybe from Noer's point of view, it's fine for him to have more control than his wife over whether the marriage ends. But for a woman, an independent means of support is never a negative.
For more commentary on Noer's article, see the following:
A post entitled Marry someone who will push you: another reason Michael Noer gets it so very wrong by Hugo Schwyzer
Echidne takes on Gary Becker's model of the division of labor in marriage which influenced Noer's article on career women.