The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb
Annabel Crabb is a political commentator, an author, journalist and television show host. She examines the position of women in the workforce, the inequality of wages, and the perception of parenting in this book, subtitled, ‘Why women need wives, and men need lives’. While she makes some interesting points, all of her examples are drawn from politicians, TV presenters, writers and journalists. The debate is, therefore, heavily skewed towards middle-class professions, making it not really typical of real life for most people.
There is no question that women earn less than men on average, but the reasons for this are less clear. Often women don’t get the higher-paid jobs because they don’t have the experience – but how will they ever gain the experience if they aren’t given the job? Part of the problem is perception. Because there are currently more men in higher-paid positions, the trend is likely to continue. Another part of the problem is that the emergent workforce doesn’t see it as a problem at all, because it isn’t for them. Yet.
Firstly, there is marriage; secondly (in this model, at least), there are children. Each stage makes a difference to a person’s income and status. Until relatively recently (October 1966), legislation forbad married women from working in the public sector. Although things have changed, they are still fairly regressive in the upper echelons of the pay scales. Of the 1192 senior executives (half male; half female) who responded to a ‘Leaders in a Global Economy’ survey, three-quarters of the men had a wife or spouse who didn’t work. Three-quarters of the women had a husband who worked full-time. “The men got wives, in other words. And the women didn’t.”
Having a wife is considered an asset for a worker. Employers tend to see men with wives as more reliable, and remunerate them accordingly. “Marriage, for men, means being paid more money. The phenomenon known as ‘the marriage premium’ is recorded in many countries, and in Australia married men earn on average about 15 per cent more than unmarried ones.”
Stage two: children. “What proportion of nuclear families has a dad who works full-time, and a mum who doesn’t? Sixty per cent. What proportion has a mum who works full-time, with a male ‘wife’? Three per cent.” On the whole, due to earning capacity and public perception, it is the man who goes to work and the woman who remains at home. After all, “A mother who works is a ‘working mother’. A father who works is just a normal guy.” Crabb argues that this situation must change so that men leaving work to look after children has to become considered as normal as women doing it.
Part of the alpha-male culture which needs to change is that currently the man has to be seen to be the major breadwinner. In this corporate world, men are expected to get to the office early and leave late, and are told that weekends are for families. This isn’t the point of this book, but what about people who work in retail/hospitality – any job that isn’t a Monday-Friday; when are they meant to spend time with their family?