Western Mail, 20th July 2010

A survey published today shows that more women than ever are the main breadwinner in the home, out-earning their partners. Helen Turner examines the changing shape of the traditional partnership

THE emergence of the so-called Mrs Big and her Toxic Sisterhood has been regarded by some with hostility.

But the number of female breadwinners is on the up – and they are keen to do their fair share of housework and childcare, a study reveals today.

Almost a third of women in the workplace are now earning more than their partners and a fifth earns as much, while one in 10 already has a house husband.

Responsibility has shifted in relationships due to the particularly male-hit recession, suggested the Women And Work Survey 2010, commissioned by Grazia Magazine.

The survey found the 2,000 women questioned did not wish to leave the world of work after having a child, with only 11% wanting to “stop work completely”.

Women with full-time jobs said their employment made them feel “worthwhile” (50%) and “confident” (51%).

Respondents were “realistic” about the downsides of full-time motherhood, with almost half of all full-time mothers admitting they hated “not earning their own money”, while 32% missed work itself.

More than two thirds (69%) of mothers said they still “preferred to keep their hand in at work”, with mothers of under-threes stating they “preferred to work, albeit preferably part-time” (60%), rather than be a “full-time mum.” (40%).

Despite the emergence of the so called ‘Mrs Big’, the survey identified she was now part of a ‘cross-over couple’ where partners shared the load and were not bound by traditional ideas.

Four out of 10 women thought that in future, the career of whoever was the higher earner would take precedence, regardless of sex (42%), and a further 39% felt mothers and fathers would share the work and childcare load equally.

However, the survey also pinpointed a worrying new battleground emerging between parents and the child-free.

Nine out of 10 women said child-free workers resented the flexi-hours and time off mothers can have, while 71% said other women were their harshest critics in the workplace and a third of female directors thought “mothers are less productive”.

More than half of all working women thought mothers’ employment rights might be putting employers off hiring women (53%) and 74% of female directors thought this was now the case.

But rather than backtracking on rights, they would rather give working fathers the same rights as working mothers (52%) to prevent any discrimination.

Jane Bruton, editor of Grazia Magazine said: “We’re in the middle of a huge social shift. Women are increasingly earning as much or more than their partners and many of these women get a great amount out of their working lives.

“For many of these high earners it makes more sense for their partners to take on a greater domestic role.

“Of course, there are going to be mixed feelings about this, but it is definitely something that is becoming more accepted.”

She added: “The Toxic Sisterhood is souring the workplace for women. Many resent what they see as ‘special treatment’ of working mothers. It’s a depressing picture because if we don’t want to exclude a whole generation of women from the workplace, we need to work with each other, not against each other.”

Kate Edwards is an Associate at Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice LLP in Cardiff and is the main breadwinner in her Tongwynlais home.

Since her partner Rhys Lambert was made redundant last September, the pay gap between them has widened. He has been working in Swansea since April.

Ms Edwards, who said she had always earned a bit more, thinks the gap is about £15,000.

“We have talked about it because when he took this job the salary was going to be less. He needed to go back to work for lots of different reasons – for self-esteem. He was getting so bored. We needed him to get back to work for practical reasons and it’s a job that he enjoys. So the pay is irrelevant, really.

“We are both happy. We have got an allotment. It tends to be his domain, I cook whatever he makes. We go away for the weekend, have people over for dinner.”

But Ms Edwards, 31, knows the balance could shift the other way.

“To be honest, the idea is that if I were to have children, that is when he has to support me. He’s not got an issue with it.

Mr Lambert, 32, who has known his partner since their schooldays in Pontypridd, said: “It’s a good balance – it’s not an ideal balance but it’s a good balance.

“I understood when we got together that her potential pay was going to be a lot more than my potential pay in the long run. I am completely OK with it.”