Nearly half a century ago, Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique helped kick off the modern feminist movement. Friedan described the widespread melancholy of women who felt trapped by the notion that they could find fulfillment only as wives and mothers. Women have come a long way since then—more women are working and fewer getting married, just as Friedan might have hoped. Yet many working women seem to suffer from a despondency similar to the one that Friedan attributed to a life as a homemaker. And despite an initial closing of the gender wage gap, differences persist between what men and women with similar skills and education earn. A preliminary study by
University of Chicago and Singapore economists argues that there may be a single explanation that lies behind all of these trends, one related to the very slow-moving social identities of men and women and how these identities collide within a marriage or romantic partnership. Though in 2012 women are better educated and higher-skilled than men, in identity terms we’re still stuck in a 1950s world in which “men work in the labor force and women work in the home.” These ’50s era gender identities prevent many men from partnering with women who out-earn them and create friction for the men who do. The study’s findings suggest that a focus on gender discrimination in the workplace won’t be nearly enough to create gender equality in America. , , , [and] that couples in which a woman earns more than her husband are less likely to report that they’re happy in their marriage—and their unions are more likely to end in divorce.