High-status women are happier when their husbands pitch in at home: study

high status women marriage
Married women who are more successful than their husbands are viewed as having 'married down' and more prone to divorce. But a partner who shares the responsibilities at home can help quell these perceptions. Getty Images

It’s a no-brainer: work-life balance is hard to achieve, and women with high-status jobs are happier when they get help at home.

But women in these positions may also feel their careers can have a negative impact on their marital status.

According to a recent study published in the journal Organization Science, Alyson Byrne, assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Julian Barling, professor of organizational behaviour at Queen’s University, found women who believed they held “higher-status positions” compared to their husbands were more likely to experience “resentfulness or embarrassment” if their husband made less, for example.

“Husbands, however, were unaffected by their wives’ status spillover feelings: they only experienced greater marital dissatisfaction and thoughts about divorce if their wives were outwardly unhappy with their relationship,” the authors wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

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“Societal norms still suggest that in heterosexual marriages, husbands ‘should’ hold higher job status relative to their wives,” the authors continued.

Often, when women are more successful than their male partners, the researchers note, they are labelled as “marrying down” or more prone to divorce. A fact that is often correlated to the so-called “Oscar Love Curse.”

The silver lining

But here’s what researchers want to get across: when husbands supported these women at home, they were more stable in their marriages overall. This included helping with domestic responsibilities like chores or cooking, as well as taking care of children or elders in the home.

“This was not the case if their partner simply provided emotional support, suggesting that it is the tangible support that husbands provide to higher job status wives that matters more. We suspect that providing this type of tangible support not only allows wives to focus on their careers, but also denotes respect,” the authors wrote.

Why this isn’t surprising

Toronto-based psychotherapist Nicole McCance says these results don’t surprise her. In fact, she says, housework can act as a sort of foreplay for some women.

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“If you’re investing in her during the day, by doing the dishes, feeding kids or doing the laundry, she will feel appreciated,” she tells Global News.

WATCH: Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage
Click to play video 'Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage' Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage
Why old clichés like ‘happy wife, happy life’ might be hurting your marriage

McCance adds when the housework isn’t equal, people tend to grow resentful over time, and this can ruin your relationship down the road.

“It’s hard to get out of it,” she says. “You don’t realize this underlying brewing anger until years later. People end up not attracted to [their partners] anymore.”
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The research

For this study, researchers used a nine-item scale to assess married women’s feelings on their status, and surveyed 209 heterosexual high-status women who were either married or in common-law relationships. They also collected data from 53 husbands. These results were compared to an original sample from three years ago.

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“Our analyses then showed that wives’ initial higher job status and feelings of status spillover predicted marital instability (but not necessarily divorce) three years later, reinforcing the importance of understanding this dynamic,” they wrote.

In Canada, nonprofit organization Catalyst notes women made up 47.2 per cent of the labour force in 2015, but men are two to three times more likely to be in senior management positions.

READ MORE: Women control family purse strings no matter who the breadwinner is: BMO survey

A 2016 Statistics Canada report found women held 35.5 per cent of all management positions and 33.3 per cent of all senior management roles.

How to build equal relationships

McCance offers some tips on building a meaningful relationship with a shared workload:

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  • Ask for help: Don’t expect your partner to read your mind, if you need help with something, ask.
  • Don’t criticize their work: If they do end up helping around the house, don’t criticize them for not doing it “right.”
  • Connect with each other: As soon as you see your partner opening the door, greet them with a hug.
  • Plan date nights: At least twice a month, spend one-on-one time with each other.
  • Ask about their day: Take a moment and be the listener, your partner will appreciate it in the long run.

And if your partner still doesn’t want to help or still believes women should bear the brunt of “traditional housework,” McCance says, tell them how it makes you feel.

“Don’t say, ‘You’re selfish and you never help.’ Let them know you feel overwhelmed, frustrated and alone.”