Mar 27, 2009

One-career families

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: modern family

All of us are thinking about success differently than we did a year ago. In our own lives, we’ve gone from a mind-set of more, more, more to one of living within our means, making ends meet and getting a decent night’s sleep.


On a larger scale we hope this will translate to a general shift from selfishness to altruism, individualism to solidarity, “every man for himself” to “we’re all in this together,” cornering resources to pooling resources.


Families may be the most promising social group when it comes to making this kind of change work. Before 2008, jobs were relatively plentiful; families could aspire to “have it all.” And if they didn’t, they could pretty conveniently engineer a split. Success had a lot of “self” in it (self-expression, self-development, self-realization).  But now, no longer. Now jobs and money are much less plentiful, assets have shrunk in value, and it makes a lot more sense for families to stick together, pool resources and seek success collectively.


The dynamic of success within the family is changing, too. Over the past several decades, the traditional income structure shifted from a single earner (the man) to double earners, and now we are moving back to a single earner in a lot of cases. The difference? There is no longer an assumption that a man is the head of household income. Women are better educated and have higher earning potential than ever. And plenty of women have equal or better employment security than their partner. When the economy is shedding jobs, it makes sense for households to go for a single-earner strategy and support whoever has the best prospects at the time, regardless of gender. That may be tough for some men to accept, especially those in an older age bracket. But in the tougher post-2008 environment, and in a world of ever-increasing power and potential for women, the terms of tradition have changed. Basic survival will be served by developing a flexible family strategy, with partners willing to swap roles as circumstances change, sharing the burdens and the rewards.

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