Monday, September 10, 2007

On Assumptions and Power Balance

We have two friends named Casey, as I've mentioned before. (They're engaged now. We can't wait to see if they'll be the Casey Parkers.) Casey 1 is a scientist; he wants an academic job. Casey 2 is a... let me make something up... a librarian, so she can work pretty much anywhere.

Casey 2 and I were chatting about marriage several months ago, before they were engaged. "You should protect yourself before you move across the country with him," I said. "I'm sure you want to be married first."

Later it struck me: I would never say that to a man. Why should marriage be protective? She's a highly trained paid professional! She's gainfully employed! She doesn't need protecting!

Casey 1 is getting first choice of geography and employment; Casey 2 is trailing, and so maybe she is giving up more in terms of ideal jobs and so on. As a woman, she will on average earn less than him, because even in the same jobs. women earn less than men. She is more likely to stay home or take leave when she has children, which will cut her future salary as well as, probably, her retirement fund.

On the other hand, why would marriage be a protective commitment for her? She can pick up and leave any time she wants. This is an outmoded social myth, and I'm ashamed of myself.

Children, now- is that different? Is marriage then protective for a woman who continues to work? After reading The Price of Motherhood, I'd say yes. Because women are more likely to stay home, they end up at a financial disadvantage; in case of a divorce, the woman's standard of living drops dramatically and the man's typically does not.

Do men who stay home need protecting? Do their future salaries drop out of proportion to their time out of the work force, as women's do? I don't know, but I rather doubt it. Their lifetime earnings, etc., will certainly drop nonetheless. Like women, the years they spent with children are years they do not get raises and bonuses.

So perhaps anyone who stays home with a child could use some financial protection: their own savings account, an IRA or two, an independent line of credit, some way to keep up their credentials if necessary. These things could minimize the financial impact on either Casey, even if they stay married- if, God forbid, one should die unexpectedly or become ill, the other would not be left destitute.

This is part of why it makes me edgy when my girlfriends stay home with their children. They're counting on their husbands staying healthy, married, and employed. I worry that the unexpected will happen, and they will be left in a bad position. (But if I end up doing the same, you can laugh at me.)