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Gold Diggers Are Alive and Well in 2006

By Marty Nemko

I so often see this syndrome in my female clients: She comes in ostensibly wanting a career but finds an objection to every option, except going back to school, which defers having to work. Or she's done as much school as she can possibly justify, agrees that a particular career goal is appropriate, but refuses to do the work necessary to land a job.

When I ask, “Do you really want to work?,” most say no. So often, they’ll admit that what they’d really love is a man to support them so they can stay home—even if no children are involved.

One of my clients, a 20-something project coordinator for Sun Microsystems said, “If I could, I’d stay home in a minute. And that’s true for all of my (female) friends.”I was amazed by one of my clients, a recent graduate of a prestigious college who fit that profile perfectly, saying she’d love to meet a husband who made enough money that she could be a full-time housewife. What amazed me was that she said her most deeply held value is that women are constantly oppressed.

I had thought the era of gold diggers ended in the ‘60s with the women’s movement. But I’m here to say that from where I sit, it’s still alive and well. Perhaps today’s women, seeing their mothers not so happy in the workplace makes them decide they’d rather stay home and have a man support them, if they can find one.

My anecdotal experience is supported by others. For example, Time, 60 Minutes, and the New York Times Sunday Magazine all did major features on today’s women not wanting to work. Often cited, for example, was a study of Stanford MBAs. 95 % of the men were working full time while only 38% of the women were. In their book What Women Really Want, pollsters Celinda Lake, a Democrat, and Kellyanne Conway, a Republican, found that seven in 10 women say they would stay home with their kids if they could afford it.

Update: This 2012 study by Dr. Catherine Hakim from the London School of Economicsfinds thatmore women today want to be housewives supported by their husbands than even in the 1940s, before the feminist movement was even a twinkle in Germaine Greer's eye.

I’m surprised that so many guys don’t mind being the sole breadwinner. Many of them, however, change their minds when I say this to them:

Today, it typically requires two incomes for a family to own a home and support a solid middle class lifestyle. If the wife refuses to work and especially if she pushes hard to own a home, have children, and spend heavily on clothes, jewelry, spas, going back to college, vacations, etc., it means that the man must try to find a very high-income job. Those jobs are very difficult to land and, once obtained, typically demand long, stress-filled, often unrewarding hours, for example as corporate lawyers, bond traders, insurance salesmen, or executives in which pressure to generate profit is high and the power to implement change is low.

Meanwhile, the wife gets a far more pleasurable existence, even when she has children to raise. Evidence it’s more pleasurable: In studies in which men who work outside the home offer to switch roles with their stay-at-home wives, most women refuse.

Finally, remember that men die much younger than women, with stress being a major killer. Do you really want to be a beast of burden so your wife can live a cushy life, and then after you die, inherit the money you’ve earned so she can continue her lifestyle?

Even after my lecturette, some men say they’re happy to be the sole breadwinner, but more say the lecturette opened their eyes—they agree that they would have more rewarding, less stressful career options and, overall, better lives if their wives contributed significantly to the family income. Most of the men say they will talk with their wives about it, but when they return for their next session, they usually report that their wife pulled out all the stops to avoid having to work: they cried, yelled, guilt-tripped, or avoided talking about it—anything but look for work.

These women use various excuses to avoid working, most commonly:

It’s better for the children. In fact, the data is equivocal about that. And anecdotally, I’ve seenmany examples in which a stay-at-home mom overprotects a child, resulting in a less self-confident child than if the child were in a high-quality child-care program.

I don’t have earning potential. The definitive book on the subject, Why Men Earn More by Dr. Warren Farrell (Amacom, 2005) finds that for the same work, in many fields, women earn more than $1 for each dollar men earn. Even low-skill-required jobs such as waitressing can yield $50,000-$100,000 a year.

Men, I urge you to be more conscious about whether you are allowing yourself to be turned into being a beast of burden to pay for the expensive house, kids, and all the material “stuff” that you might well be willing to trade away for a more pleasant life.

And if you’re single, consider whether your life will be better if you hold out for a woman who will share responsibility for the family income. Besides, by requiring that, you’ll know that the woman wants to be with you because she loves you, not because—as a surprising number of my female clients have admitted in the privacy of my office--that she considers you a cash cow.

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