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For Women Lawyers, Marriage (To Men) Sucks

Vivia Chen

March 16, 2020

Assyrian_wedding _MechelenWant to find a life partner who’ll make you deliriously happy—emotionally and sexually—and be a helpmate in your career?

If you’re a man, the winning recipe is this: Be gay. But if you’re a woman, whatever you do, steer the hell away from marriage, particularly the traditional heterosexual sort.

Wacky advice? Not at all. I’m basing this on research by members of the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. (The study’s authors Michael Garcia and Debra Umberson analyzed the diaries of 756 middle-aged men and women.) Recently, Stephanie Coontz, the author of “Marriage: A History,” wrote about it in The New York Times.

Lowest stress:  Men in gay marriages.

Middle stress:  Men married to women; women married to women.

Highest stress: Women married to men.

Surprised that women in hetero marriages are the most miserable? I doubt it. That’s because we know that women in hetero relationships usually get saddled with the dirty laundry and the dirty dishes—all that dreadful housework. (Need I remind you that female lawyers bear most of the home responsibilities, according to a study by the American Bar Association and ALM Legal Intelligence?)

As the Times reports, studies show “that the happiest and most sexually satisfied couples” divvy up housework and child care “the most equally,” while relationships where the wife does most of the chores display “the highest levels of discord.”

And, ladies, if that doesn’t dissuade you from marrying Mr. Right (or Mr. Wrong), consider this: “When a never-married man married, he reduced his routine housework, on average, by three and a half hours a week,” reports the Times. And for the wife? You guessed it: She picked up 3.5 hours more of housework!

What’s more, having children will make the problem worse. “Married mothers spend more time on housework than single mothers and have significantly less leisure time than cohabiting mothers,” reports the Times about how gender roles become reinforced with offspring.

So what’s the better alternative? As you might expect, those entrenched gender roles are far less pronounced in gay unions. “Almost half of dual-earner, same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples,” reports The Times. “And a whopping 74 percent of same-sex couples shared routine child care, compared with only 38 percent of straight couples.”

But the happiest, most ideal situation, as I alluded in the beginning, is marriage between gay men. So what makes those arrangements so blissful? Ah, let’s count the ways:

Gay male couples are the most satisfied about division of labor. They tend to be more communicative about job duties at home, even though there’s the same percentage of stay-at-home parents among gay males as heterosexual couples.

Gay male couples are more honest about sexual matters, including preferences. In non-monogamous relationships, gay men tend to have “detailed agreements” about what’s permissible.

Gay male marriages are quite stable. Contrary to stereotype, gay men in “formalized unions are as stable as those of heterosexuals and more stable than formalized female-female unions.”

That last point raises this issue: Why aren’t lesbian marriages as happy and secure as gay male ones?

“Having a double dose of masculine or feminine socialization in a relationship can pose its own problems,” reports the Times, adding that women tend to “put more energy into maintaining and deepening intimacy” and have “more extensive expectations of empathy and emotional support.” All good stuff, except “they also consume a lot of energy and can generate stress or disappointment.”

So even in the LGBTQ world, gay males trump lesbians when it comes to marriages. But lesbian marriages are still more tranquil than hetero ones, though their longevity is no better or worse.

All things considered, maybe women should skip all the agita and simply stay single.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com

On Twitter: @lawcareerist


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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: VChen@alm.com

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