There is only one problem with the dour and dismal portrait of heterosexual marriage painted by Liza Mundy in this month's Atlantic cover story. It's wrong.
In her bleak rendering, contemporary marriage comes across as unequal, unfair, and unhappy to today's wives. Wives are burdened with an unequal and unfair "second shift" of housework and childcare, husbands enjoy "free time" while their wives toil away at home, lingering gender inequalities in family life leave many wives banging "their heads on their desks in despair," and one poor woman cannot even have a second child because she does "everything" and her husband does nothing. Mundy also suggests that recent declines in women's happiness can be laid at the feet of "lingering inequity in male-female marriage."
Of course, it's true that some marriages are unequal and unfair, leaving a minority of wives (and husbands) unhappy. And most husbands and wives experience moments or even periods of frustration with their work-family arrangements. Nevertheless, the big picture for marriage in America—for those Americans fortunate enough to have tied the knot—is markedly more rosy than Mundy's portrait would suggest. Most husbands and wives make about equal total contributions to the paid and unpaid work needed to sustain a family, judge their marriages to be fair, and are happily married.
Take family work. When you combine paid work, housework, and childcare, today's married parents both put in about 55 hours, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. It's true that married mothers do more of the housework and childcare, but in most households this doesn't amount to an onerous burden for them. That's because most married mothers do not work full-time (43 percent work full-time) and do not wish to work full-time (just 23 percent wish to work full-time, a fact rarely mentioned in media accounts of work and family life).