Whose career should be prioritised in a relationship?

The movement towards greater gender equity has made major strides, from a time where women had to fight for the most basic of human rights, like access to education or employment.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of feminists who have come before us, women enjoy far greater liberties and freedoms in their everyday lives than those of generations past.

We now find ourselves in a more progressive society that overall tends to be more inclusive and accepting. However, this means that the inequalities we are now fighting for are becoming more nuanced, complex, and less clear-cut.

One example of this is how modern couples balance their responsibilities at work and at home, and whose career gets the top priority within the relationship.

In the past, this would not have even been a question. Most legally acknowledged romantic partnerships were cisgender and heterosexual, and conformed to well-established gender roles and expectations. The men went to work while the women maintained the home and raised children. While women are now an essential part of the workforce, imbalances remain.

Dr Lillian Nejad, clinical psychologist at Skills for Life, explained that many people falsely assume that gender equity has all but been achieved, and that there is nothing holding women back from pursuing their professional goals.

While societal beliefs have become more egalitarian, unfortunately these attitudes have not always translated to actual changes in behaviour in regards to contributing equally at home and at work.

“There are further societal shifts that need to take place so that change can go beyond just our attitudes,” said Dr Nejad.

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“The pay gap is one of the main issues of contention. Often the decisions about whose career takes priority are based purely on economic factors.

“Given women do not receive equal pay in comparison to their male counterparts, it is far more likely that a man’s career will take precedence just based on the fact that he’s making more money for the family.”

What’s driving persistent gender inequities at work and at home?

Dr Nejad explained that the inequitable opportunities women face in their careers are inextricably linked with imbalances that occur in the home.

“Research shows that although women make up half of the workforce, they still do the majority of the household chores,” she said.

“Women also tend to take on more of the mental load – the unseen tasks of planning, organising, and decision-making for the family, that often goes unnoticed.”

The enormous responsibility of managing a family can be a distraction from a woman’s career, hindering their ability to attend social and networking events. Some women may even feel they need to reduce their working hours in order to meet their family’s needs.

The extra pressures women face at home, combined with the systemic barriers preventing them from reaching their maximum earning potential, causes many women to resign to the fact that their career will always take a back seat.

Interestingly, in dual-income couples, research suggests that whoever earns more at work tends to do less household chores, but that for couples who earn the same amount, the labor is divided more equally. This highlights the vital importance of addressing the gender pay gap in liberating women to pursue their professional aspirations.

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