No matter how modern same-sex couples may be in their views on equality, old habits die hard. The Covid-19 pandemic made this very clear to parents who have already struggled to find balance.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Mothers and fathers both left the workforce earlier in the April 2020 pandemic, but almost all fathers eventually returned to work while many mothers stayed at home. And a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that recessions typically increase the gender pay gap by 2 percentage points, but a pandemic-induced recession increases the gap by 5 percentage points.
As a result, a generation of career-minded women face many of the same obstacles that have left previous generations of women underpaid or entirely unemployed. To solve these problems, you need to examine your prejudices, model the behavior you want other families to adopt, and treat your partner with empathy.
COMPARE YOUR SPECIFIED VALUES WITH YOUR INCLUDED VALUES
Ed Coambs, a financial therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina, asks clients to tell him about how money and work were seen in their growing families. He notes that while your stated values may include equality, the values of your family and community also influence your views, and those values may not match.
Coambs can relate. When he met his wife, she was in dental school and he was working as a firefighter. Once she graduated, she would earn more than him. At first, Coambs was in full support.
“Then we came into the reality of living together,” he says. “It exposed insecurities about not being the breadwinner and not conforming to my internalized gender roles and expectations.” In Coambs’ case, his father was the breadwinner when he was growing up.
Culture also influences your value system. Melissa Daroszewski was active in the Black Law Students Association while studying law. “We have talked many times about the increase in black women earning higher degrees,” she says.
Many black women she knew said they wanted to marry a black man but struggled to find someone who deserved the same or more. Daroszewski, who graduated in 2009 and now lives in Laurel Springs, New Jersey, said the men in her class were predominantly white.
“I can see that the further you are in your career the more problematic it is, especially if you aspire to be a partner or senior member of a profession in which you do,” she says. “You will want someone who is equal or agrees with the fact that they earn less.”
There is great attraction to family, race, and community, and your partner comes into a relationship with a distinct cultural background. When you’re working on resolving disagreements, it’s okay to admit that something doesn’t feel good to you because it is different from your upbringing.
“A lot of couples don’t take the time to develop their relationship to think through these really critical issues,” says Coambs. It’s important to talk about day-to-day money management, but also to discuss things about how money was for you as an adult. This can give you some insight into your partner’s mindset.
BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE
By challenging your own prejudices, you and your partner can begin to model the behaviors that you would like to be more prevalent, which even on a small scale can lead to change.
Darcy Lockman, author of “All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership,” looks to history as an example. During World War II, more women worked outside the home, paving the way for greater diffusion. “The behavior hasn’t changed because the attitudes have changed,” says Lockman. “Settings have changed because behavior has changed.”
Because of the pandemic, she says, we’re seeing something new. In families where the man can work from home and the woman has a job that she must do personally, the involvement of men at home has increased dramatically. Lockman cites the physical absence of women as one reason men have been reinforced. “That means millions of children and neighbors will see men at home,” she says, a new behavior change that can further change attitudes in society.
Tap your EMPATHY
Larin Brink worked in the television and film industries as a prop assistant before she had children. She now works at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, a job that allows her to be more available to her family. Her income no longer matches her husband’s, and his frequent back-to-back meetings mean she often does things like virtual schooling or trips to the pediatrician.
“I don’t make that much money so my job isn’t that important right now, and it’s a shame to say that, but that’s the truth,” she says.
But Brink realizes that her husband is facing his own struggle: the fear that employees without small children at home will be more available at work than he is. “He wants to be engaged to show and prove his worth,” she says.
Seeing things from the other person’s point of view is a great way to put out metaphorical fires. “Does empathy fix everything? No,” says Coambs. “But is it a good starting point? Yes.”
This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sara Rathner is a writer at NerdWallet.
NerdWallet: COVID-19 and Your Money: Our Guide to Managing Your Finances During Troubled Times https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-covid-finances
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis: Pandemic pushes mothers of young children out of work https://www.minneapolisfed.org/article/2021/pandemic-pushes-mothers-of-young-children-out-of-the-labor-force
National Bureau of Economic Research: It’s different this time: The role of women’s employment in a pandemic recession https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w27660/w27660.pdf/