Women still want to marry men who are better educated and earn more money than them, a report finds today.
Gender pay gap down to women's lifestyle choicesPhoto: ALAMY
By Tim Ross, Social Affairs Editor7:00AM GMT 04 Jan 2011
The idea that women dislike being financially dependent on men is a myth, with more choosing to “marry up” now than did so in the 1940s, according to Dr Catherine Hakim from the London School of Economics.
After decades of gender equality campaigning many women now find it hard to admit that they want to be a housewife more than they want a successful career of their own, she said.
The study comes after the Coalition announced a series of measures intended to narrow the pay gap between men and women.
Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister, said large companies could be forced to declare how much more they pay men and announced that firms would be able to use “positive action” to recruit new staff from under-represented groups for the first time.
However, Dr Hakim criticised David Cameron for backing the idea of quotas to ensure that more women gain seats on the boards of leading companies. Men dominate top positions because many women simply do not want long careers in business, she said.
Despite 40 years of reforms to promote gender equality at work, a woman’s financial dependence on a man “has lost none of its attractions”, she said.
In a 52-page report published by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Dr Hakim continued: “Women’s aspiration to marry up, if they can, to a man who is better-educated and higher-earning, persists in most European countries.
“Women thereby continue to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers.”
Dr Hakim’s research drew on an extensive review of existing studies from around the world, census data, and national surveys conducted in Britain and Spain.
An analysis of figures for Britain shows that in 1949, 20 per cent of women married husbands with significantly higher levels of education than their own.
By the late 1990s, the proportion of women who were “marrying up” had almost doubled to 38 per cent. Similar patterns are seen across much of Europe, the US and Australia.
The widely promoted goal of “symmetrical family roles”, with men and women sharing child-care, housework and employment, is popular among a highly educated, professional elite. But it is “not the ideal sought by most couples”, the report said.
“It is thus not surprising that wives generally earn less than their husbands, and that most couples rationally decide that it makes sense for her to take on the larger share of childcare, and use most or all the parental leave allowance.”
Dr Hakim said many women did not want to “admit” that they were looking for a higher earning partner. They even keep the fact secret from the men they are dating, she said.
“It has become impossible to say ‘I wouldn’t mind being a housewife,’” she said. “It is so politically incorrect that a lot of women don’t want to admit it.”
The report said that the “war” for equal opportunities between men and women was now over in the UK.
The gap in pay between the two sexes has fallen from about 30% in the 1970s to as low as 10% today. Women do now have an equal opportunity to find work, but choose different priorities for their lives.
The report said it was wrong for politicians to expect that equal opportunities would result in equal numbers of women as men in particular jobs.