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Time to Come Out with Your Househusband?

Vivia Chen

December 10, 2013

Man-Ironing-by akit via iStockDid you catch that front page article in the New York Times about Wall Street mothers and their stay-at-home husbands? The article made a big fuss about the arrangement—like it's something wild and radical.

But isn't that the oldest trick in the book? I thought everyone knew that having someone back on the home front is the secret to success. Isn’t that the primary reason men have always had-it-all (or at least more)? 

From what I've seen, it's not an unknown model in Big Law. Yesterday, I wrote about the NYT article for Time's ideas section, looking at it from the legal profession angle:

You can go to any number of big firms in New York City where there’s a modicum of female partners . . . and the buzz among the associates is that those women in power are either unattached or married to men who stay at home. “They seem to belong to some sort of househusband club,” said one associate about the female partners with kids at Davis Polk & Wardwell.

But the real sticking point is that women in those types of arrangements "didn’t like to talk about it." As I wrote in Time:
 
Often, successful women are loath to admit that their husband is really the one minding the home. “He has primary responsibility for the kids, but he also works on the side,” explained one partner about how her husband spends his time. But when pressed about what type of work the husband does, the reply is often vague. “He’s doing consulting” is a popular explanation.
 
I don't know if female Wall Streeters are more open about being the breadwinner in the family than their sisters in Big Law. But as I noted in Time, the arrangement "might be more palatable if the wife makes an outrageous amount of money." In other words, if the wife is an I-banker pulling in gazillions of dollars, maybe everyone will learn to make peace with the gender reversal.

"The problem might be that women lawyers aren't making enough money to feel they can justify having a househusband," one female lawyer explained to me. "Making half a million or even $1 million doesn't compare with what bankers bring home."
 
I don't know whether that means female lawyers can't afford stay-at-home spouses or that only the super rich have the freedom to break gender stereotypes.
 
Anyhoo, what do you see at your firm? Do many of the female partners have stay-at-home spouses? And are they cool about it?
 

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The female partner I work for has a stay at home husband. I wish we could afford that, and that my husband would be willing to stay home! It seems to work great for my boss and her family.

Not all high-powered women who have spouses or partners who stay at home have husbands. As a former MidLaw associate, I know of multiple women partners who had/have stay-at-home wives/female significant others.

Is a "consulting job" roughly equivalent to penning an occasional column for a blog?

Reading the comments..it's time men respect what women do for work and realize...flexibility is a necessity once children enter the picture. The one and only time this worked for me was while I worked for the federal government in Hawaii and my young son was in care not far from where I worked. His dad, my then husband, claimed a demanding work schedule that only allowed for an occasional 1/2 day if I could not flex my schedule (child sick, doctor's appointment, etc.). Now that I'm a divorced mom of two middle school boys, flexible, well paid work is key (prices have gone up to where they were 10 years ago in Hawaii in Virginia...go figure!) Looking forward to the continued discussion.

I'm a government lawyer and my husband (who would be a lower blue collar wage earner) stays home with our two daughters. (He liked it better when we were a SINK (single income, no kids!). That was the life of Reilly.)

I and many like me, who aren't female partners, and Wall street bankers also have stay at home spouses. Mine manages to work at two part time jobs, one from home in "consulting," and the other in a government office. He is primarily responsible for the care and feeding of our children and dog, while I am work 12 hours a day. Ironically we earn about the same amount. Now if only I could switch places with him! So where does that leave us? Are we still bending gender rules by switching venues of employment? Or does the criteria to qualify as a househusband mean that the wife must out earn her husband. Do we claim consultung jobs so that we do not come across as emasculating wives?

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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