Are women better off marrying for money?

June 5, 2009

Daniela Drake– Daniela Drake, M.D., attended Wellesley College and received an MBA from Stanford University. She, along with Elizabeth Ford, authored the book “Smart Girls Marry Money.” A former McKinsey consultant, she is now a full-time primary care physician. Drake married (for love) and has reaped the consequences. The views expressed are her own. –

I had to pause when I came across a blog out of South Africa that read, “I think a way forward, or backwards some of you might say, is to encourage our smart, savvy and capable daughters to marry for money.” Since I co-authored a book with a similar premise, this sassy assertion definitely grabbed my attention.

The blog’s author Jackie May, an editor for The Times world pages in South Africa, penned these seemingly heretical comments after learning of alarming research by Dr. Caroline Gatrell at Lancaster University in England. Dr. Gatrell found, “women who explicitly choose career over kids are often vilified at work.”

Huh?

Conventional wisdom says just the opposite: Sacrificing baby-making is often necessary in the calculus of getting ahead at work. Many mid-career women have forsaken motherhood to obtain career goals. Indeed, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett made news a few years ago when she presented the statistic that 49% of mid-career women who made $100,000 a year or more were childless, compared to only 10% of men.

Yet, despite the sacrifices many women make in order to climb the corporate ladder, women are still woefully under represented in top executive ranks. Eight of the CEO’s on the Fortune 500 were women a couple of years ago. Now, two years later, we’ve got 12. At this rate it will take a little over 100 years for us to represent half of the CEO’s in the Fortune 500, in the year 2128.

Although the number of CEO’s is a lofty benchmark, in general even at the lower reaches, workplace parity is coming at a glacial pace. The reasons are complicated, and it isn’t just sexism. Many have suggested that it has to do with the choices women make to fulfill personal life ambitions.

Even today, many young women don’t foresee that these choices will affect their career success. Hewlett’s more recent national survey found that the typical young woman graduate plans to have a high paying job, take two to three years off to have children and benefit from career flexibility that lets her pop back in to the workplace when the mood strikes.

While Hewlett found the women’s optimism charming, she also noted that this generation follows hot on the high-heels of a generation of women who had similar ideas. By following non-linear career paths, that generation “lost 18…to 37% of their earning power,” and suffered a complete “downsizing of their ambitions.”

But the new graduates aren’t heeding the warning signs of the slightly more senior women’s failures.

These young women are counting on their talents to grant them repeated entrée into a marketplace they were brought up to believe is a meritocracy. The bad old days are behind us, as one co-ed commented to Hewlett, “Back then—when there were dinosaurs—people just did bad stuff to women.”

But is this true, or are people still doing bad stuff to women? If Dr. Caroline Gatrell’s study is right, women who have sacrificed important personal goals are penalized at work. As Gatrell’s study indicates: Childless women are viewed as lacking an “essential humanity” and viewed as unfit to manage others.

Yet at the same time Gatrell assures us that mothers don’t fare much better. Gatrell avers, “Women with children are blamed for combining motherhood with paid work and women with no children are sidelined and discounted because they are not mothers.”

The problem of women in the workplace is so complicated that the answers themselves sound like Orwellian double-speak. Or, have we at long last entered an age when double-speak simply means that both things can be true, that workplace discrimination can take on many forms and that there are no easy answers? But one thing is certain: achieving success in the workplace is like winning a competition. If half the entering team shows up thinking it’s something less than that, then men will still have the home field advantage—and achieving parity may take more than the 100 years estimated by my back-of-the-envelope calculation.

So what will I say if my daughter asks me, “How can I make sure my life is financially secure?”

I would have to pause before I answer. I would have to consider that in all likelihood she won’t live to see true workplace equality. But her life matters now. So I will have my own Orwellian answer for her and offer it with a hefty dose of irony, “Apply yourself at school and at work. And to cover all your bases, marry a man with money.”

84 comments

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In a largely capitalist economy where money rules, everything you do should be tempered with money in mind. Lazy lay-about GW Bush would never have become president if it weren’t for the Yale schooling, one-year AWOL military service in light duty away from, and more that his parents wealth provided him. Everyone should marry money if they can–men and women–it’s a lot easier than the uncertainties of trying to earn it.

Posted by advocatusdiaboli | Report as abusive

Well I believe we in Malaysia can marry for love and money at the same time. We in Malaysia are enjoying high growth and high inflation, I do not understand all this complaining for choices, you can have both love and money. After all money is easily available in Malaysia by jumping to a higher salary! We have to thank China for our strong growth as our economy was going down until March 2009 and China rescued us by buying our commodities. Currently there is strong job market, 2 jobs for every worker, we have to import in foreign labour to do jobs that locals do not want to do ! We have high inflation, an example is a local dessert called “cendol” selling for $1.20 in local currency a month ago, is now selling for $ 1.80 in local currency. Thats a hefty increase, so don’t complain, enjoy the World boom and marry for both money and love !

Posted by Chris Leow | Report as abusive

There is a third choice, technically easy but emotionally difficult: choose a high-ROI profession, then opt out of the materialist rat race. Here’s an example.

Dentists in the US make much more than non-specialized MDs, yet need less than half the schooling. Working just 15 hours a week, a dentist can earn $50k a year while still in her 20s, with very high job flexibility and security.

$50k is not a lot. Or is it? Depends where you live. Modest homes in small-town Iowa cost $60,000. That’s a down payment of $6,000 and monthly payment of $350. Move there, work your 15 hours, and you’re set for life, with or without a rich husband. People there have bad teeth, so the strategy is evergreen.

The hard part of this is not in the mechanics. The hard part is choosing not to live in NY, SF or LA with all your graduate-educated friends. Our pride, our competitive spirit, entraps us.

Reminds me of a quote a smart friend once told me: “Trapped in the walls of his paper prison, he waits out his time like the fool that he is.”

Posted by Odious Swaggering GSBer | Report as abusive

In 40% of american households (with married couples), women are now the primary breadwinners. So I don’t know what this woman is blabbering about. Progress is being made and the fight for gender equality has certainly been worthwhile and continues to be.

Posted by ennemkay | Report as abusive