How does The Man do it?

by Katrina on March 19, 2010

"Horace, I've been meaning to ask you...At what age do you stop cutting up their grapes?" *

Studies show that men at the top of the org chart are more likely than their colleagues to have a stay-at-home wife. These same men, according to a report by the Center for WorkLife Law, lead a workforce where “both women and men have very real day-to-day responsibilities for family care.” [1]

Could this be why today’s workplace is so out of sync with today’s workers? The guys in charge don’t have to race out of the office to get to preschool before it closes, take the kids to their dentist appointments, buy the groceries, fold the laundry, or cook dinner. They have never organized a birthday party, researched summer camps, combed lice from a child’s head, stayed home when little Jared came down with chicken pox, got up with Suzy at 2am when she had a nightmare, or cut up 16 apples for the class snack.

It’s not that these titans of industry don’t have children. Most of them do. But the majority of these CEOs, VPs, senators, and executive directors simply have no understanding of what it takes to run a household.

* Photo from Library of Congress

[1] Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law and Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress called “The Three Faces of Work-family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle.” Published January 2010.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex van Schaick

I’d chalk that one up to being a class issue. If you have the money to spare, both parents don’t have to work.

But on the other hand, I don’t necessarily think that knowing what it takes to run a household will give us “enlightened” bosses. It might make them better people or husbands, but it won’t necessarily make them benevolent employers when granting good maternity and vacation benefits will mean less profits.



I have to say, speaking for a household where I, the wife, am currently the sole breadwinner, that it has been very strengthening to see my hubby slowly discover not just the joys of being at home full time with a baby, but the difficulties as well. I take great pleasure in thanking him for making dinner, sympathizing with him that the laundry has piled up, and patting him on the back when the baby has a fussy day. Of course, once I’m home, much of the childcare reverts to me…but even with that, it’s definitely a silver lining situation to have him holding the house baton.



Alex, I’m so glad you said this because it made me think in different terms.

Yes, it’s a “class issue” (The Man can afford to support the family on one income) but perhaps even more than that, it’s a GENDER issue. If it wasn’t, you’d see a lot more female CEOs with stay-at-home husbands.

These leadership jobs, (what sociologists call “two-person careers” because they require the support of an unpaid spouse) ice out anyone, male or female, moms or dads, who are in a primary caregiving role.

Now, you could say, if the guys at the top only care about making profits, then they have no reason to change. But this isn’t true. They’re losing really valuable workers–men and women, but mostly women, and that translates to lost profits. (See What’s the problem? page on this blog for some statistics on why companies need women).

I have so much more to say about this, but I need to catch up on the dishes and the laundry. 😉

Anyone else want to jump in?

Do you think having more women (and “enlightened” men) in leadership roles would make a difference in the structure of today’s workplace?



I agree with your post, however it is worth pointing out that the issue is not just that many of these men have wives who stay at home. Most (not all) of the men whose wives work also have an easy go at it- the wives very often compromise their careers and take on more of the housework and childcare, and by default take care of the dentist appointments and drop-offs and pick-ups. It wouldn’t surprise me if this effect (women picking up the slack) is stronger for the men at the top of the org chart, and the fact that they are more likely to have a wife who stays at home is just one manifestation of that.

Also, while it may be that this is partly a class issue, i.e. the wives stay at home because they can afford it, that can never be the whole story. After all, there is a strong correlation between the education of spouses and many of these CEOs are married to highly educated and competent women. Women who have careers, but never reach the top because they are responsible for the household.

As an aside, there is evidence that the fact that spouses tend to both be high-earners, or both on a low income is widening the gap between the rich and poor.

Very few couples are in totally equal partnerships where both careers matter equally, and both take on an equal share of the housework. Here are two links to a recent study that showed this exact phenomenon among academics:



Thank you for these links! I’m quoting from the first one:

“…female scientists do nearly twice as much housework as their male counterparts…This translates to more than ten hours a week for women—in addition to the nearly sixty hours a week they are already working as scientists…”

and this

“These findings have important policy implications. Over the past three decades, governments, universities, and industries have dedicated often robust resources to efforts to increase the number of women scientists—and yet progress in attracting more women to science has stalled.”

Why does this work seem to fall so consistently on the shoulders of women?



My wife, Fran, is a stay at home cancer survivor home maker. I work four days a week. Otherwise, we are seldom apart these days but we have adopted our own roles: she is the brains and I am the brawn. Fran has a philosophy about this having to do with the evolution of man as a hunter and woman as a forager which explains man as a creature who needs to be on the move, never asking for directions, around a well organized home base. I dont get it.

We have three cats and two Boston Terriers. The puppies go for rides with us when it is safe and they guard the car. They cant wake me when I am fast asleep so it falls on Fran to walk them if they have a need at 3 am. She takes the puppies to the vet during the day when I am at work. They have become Fran’s dogs. They attend to her: following her around like an entourage for Queen Fran.

Recently, because of my medical condition, Fran has taken over the driving: picking me up at work every day, and driving us to do shopping. Fran is a gourmet cook with a hamburger husband so I benefit from her endless variety and creativity.

When asked, Fran claims that she prefers having our family to her life before she met me almost twenty years ago. This is in spite of all the high maintenance activity


Kathi Browne

Perhaps “Men Don’t Do it Alone” would be a more appropriate title for this post, because the most successful men (and women, for that matter) have a supportive spouse who is willing to do more than their fair share.

The executive who can work late, respond at the drop of a hat, be more than one place at a time, and always look cool IS ABLE TO DO SO BECAUSE the spouse ran the kids around, attended the school meetings, mailed that package, made that phone call, dry-cleaned those suits, paid those bills, and apologized to the neighbors for having to cancel.


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