The New York Times covers research showing that marital happiness increases when the kids leave home. Contrary to popular opinion, which has suggested that parents — particularly moms — suffer depression from “empty nest syndrome”, research published in November in Psychological Science found that “marital satisfaction actually improves” when the kids leave home.
But if you read closely, you realize that the research shows marital satisfaction increasing not among “parents” generally, but among women specifically — presumably, women in a heterosexual marriage. Apparently, it’s not about increasing the amount of time the couple spends together; the couples spend the same amount of time together during and after the kids. “But they said the quality of that time was better.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that “the quality of time” might have something to do with this:
The arrival of children also puts a disproportionate burden of household duties on women, a common source of marital conflict. After children, housework increases three times as much for women as for men, according to studies from the Center on Population, Gender and Social Equality at the University of Maryland.
Surprise, having kids and a husband* make it less likely that women will get tenure-track positions or achieve tenure. See the “Marriage and Baby Blues: Re-defining Gender Equity” report (PDF) by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden (2003).
Thanks to my partner (a postdoc) who sent me this illustrative graphic from the report.
* I say “husband” instead of “spouse” because I suspect this report, while in theory about “marriage”, most likely included only or primarily heterosexual partnership/marriages. This report and many others show that academic men do better with wives than without, while this report shows that academic women do better without husbands than with. The rather personal question it raises for me is, what about lesbian professional/academic couples? Does the penalty for “marriage” apply?
Also, does the parenting penalty apply only to the birth-mom or the stay-at-home mom, or does it apply regardless based on choices that most moms make to prioritize their children, regardless of the presence or absence of gender of their partner? The data showed that single moms did better than married-to-a-man moms, so I suspect that the problem for academic moms is not motherhood, per se, but persistent sexism in academic moms’ heterosexual relationships. Is there a better way to understand this data?