Do you prefer a prominent position at work or a stable emotional relationship?

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A woman surrounded by men and women

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Getting a pleasant career in which a person feels successful, as well as living a stable romantic relationship is a goal for many of us, but even in most countries interested in achieving gender equality, maintaining a relationship is more difficult for women with higher positions compared to their male counterparts.

Sweden ranks first on the gender equality index in the European Union, for several reasons, including the fact that the country grants generous leave to parents upon the birth of a child, support for childcare nurseries, and allow flexible working times. But when economists recently studied how promotions in senior positions influenced the possibility of divorce for every gender, the result was that women were much more likely to pay the price personally for their professional success.

“Promoting to a high position in politics increases the divorce rate among women, but this does not apply to men, and women who become CEOs,” says Joanna Ricken, a professor at Stockholm University and co-author of the research published this month in the American Economic Journal. They shoot faster than men who reach the same position. ”

The study, which was conducted on men and women (heterosexuals) working in private companies with at least 100 employees, found that married women were at risk of divorce three years after they were promoted to CEO – twice as much – compared to their male counterparts.

In the public sector, after returning to records covering three decades, the rates of separation of slave women doubled, and they became mayors and members of parliament; 75% of them remained married after eight years of their election.

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The researchers noted that the majority of the participants in the research had children who had reached the age of leaving the family home in conjunction with the stage of divorce of their parents, that is, the marriage pressures that preceded the separation were not associated with pressures related to the care of young children.

Professor Reiken says that although Sweden has provided legislation and community structures that ensure “that no one needs to choose between family and professional life,” the research reveals that the story changes completely in families when women advance the career ladder.

Many couples experience “stress and rift” when the division of their economic and social roles changes. For example, the free time between them may decrease, or the distribution of household tasks between them may change. But this tension often swells when women – not men – get promoted, because that creates many unexpected tasks.

The research did not address those who initiated the divorce, but one theory holds that the husbands of managers in senior positions found that it was more difficult for them to deal with the situation than the wives of men in high positions. The research also indicates that the marriage market has not been able to keep pace with developments in the labor market when it comes to gender equality.

A common concern

For Charlotte Ljung, 39, executive director of a luxury furniture and furnishing group in Sweden who also runs an online platform to advise divorce planners, this research reflects the concerns shared by many of the successful women she communicates with.

“We exchange a joke that says: The better we do our work, the more likely our divorce is,” she laughs.

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She divorced and her two young children were divorced, and says that she tried as a mother to take care of them in addition to doing her work that required great responsibility, but that was a major source of cracking her marriage relationship.

But she nonetheless believes that the “practical aspects” of being an executive head, such as frequent travel, long hours of work, and the stresses that come with being a public figure can often cause many difficulties for female managers’ partners even if the spouses do not have children.

“There is a perception that the one who wears pants is the one who has to bring in more money. Today’s men often find it interesting at first, and they want to appear as supportive of women – and that’s very positive – but I think after a short time, when Things get real, the situation becomes more difficult for men to deal with. ”

Charlotte believes that raising awareness about the common challenges husbands face after promoting women to senior positions can improve opportunities to maintain their relationship.

“We must avoid playing the role of feminists and pointing the finger at the man, because basically he didn’t really prepare for such a change in a practical way. We need to provide better tools and raise awareness by talking about this issue,” she says.

Choose the right partner

How, then, can women who aspire to higher positions reduce the opportunity to enter into a precarious relationship if they reach the top of the career ladder?

Professor Joanna Rikken notes that even in countries that guarantee equality such as Sweden, women still want to marry older men who earn more money than them, like fairy tales in fairy tales that teach us to find a successful husband as much as possible.

“Women with a high income and high status do not marry a man with a low income who wants to stay at home. Women tend to search for a husband with a higher income than them. But this thinking may not be ideal. Maybe it is better to enter into a relationship in which there is more equality from the beginning “.

The research also found that divorce cases that occurred in Sweden after the promotions of women in which the wives were often much younger than the husband, and had taken maternity leave for a longer period than the father (knowing that in Sweden the partners are legally entitled to divide the paternity leave between them equally).

Couples who were of similar age and took an equal period of childcare were less likely to divorce after the wife’s promotion.

The study calls for more research to understand the conditions that may encourage women who have reached the top in their professions to marry people of lower job level, and that men reverse.

Positive examples

Charlotte Sundocker, 38, was promoted to the position of interim CEO of a global educational company in Stockholm two years after she had her first child with her long-time partner, Christian Hagmann, 31. She believes that his young age played a positive role in their relationship, which survived despite many “cracks” after she got her prestigious job.

Sundecker describes her partner as belonging to “a different generation trying to challenge the old understanding of what it means to be a man”, which has made it more supportive of the burdens of her hard work.

But both partners say the main reason they stay together is the frequent and honest talks about the challenges they face.

Christian said that when Charlotte started her new business, “It was completely consumed. This is the nature of being CEO. I was a little sad because of not communicating with her daily. But she listened to me and I did the same.”

The couple says that having the idea of ​​staying together for a long time was also essential, along with another idea that Christian wants to focus in the future more on his career. So a private design consultancy office started, while his partner now runs her own business and heads a Swedish research center that aims to empower women.

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Benefits of divorce

But divorce is not always a bad thing.

Molly Molm, a lawyer with the Swedish law firm Lexi, notes that Sweden’s high divorce rate compared to the rest of the European Union is linked to gender equality goals. The high level of female participation in the workforce and joint childcare after separation makes it easy for all divorced women from all economic backgrounds to leave these partnerships when staying together becomes impossible.

“Divorce must not be the end of the world,” Molem says, noting that marriage more than once has become a norm in Scandinavia, and that you have several partners (not husbands), each of whom stays with you for a long time.

“Sweden is not a very religious country … A person marries to bring a kind of romance and happiness to his life. If it does not work, divorce can be requested,” he explains.

Research data indicate that women who divorced after receiving high promotions are less likely to remarry or to enter into a serious relationship again. But the research cannot conclude whether they were happier in their lives without a partner or whether they found it difficult to find a new person compared to their male counterparts.

One of the beneficial results of high divorce rates, she says, is that it has become much easier for both men and women in Sweden to hold senior positions in business and politics without a partner.

“In other parts of the world if you run an election campaign, there must be a husband standing next to you. The same may happen to the executives as the presence of a husband becomes necessary in their world, but in Sweden this is no longer the case.”

“Society has become more receptive to the idea of ​​divorce, and it may be a positive thing. If a woman enters into an unequal relationship with a husband who does not support her career, then divorce allows her to continue her profession alone with the ability to search for a new partner … it does not necessarily have to be Ideal for staying with the same person throughout life. ”

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