Every year, many mothers in the US leave the workplace, staying home to raise their families and support their husbands’ career pursuits. Highly-educated women, especially, make considerable sacrifices to put their careers on hold for homemaking and mothering.
Much of society backs up women’s choice to become homemakers. More than half as many Americans believe that mothers are better than fathers at caring for new babies. While both men and women recognize the value of caretaking, it’s difficult to put a price tag on it, especially when calculating property settlements at divorce.
The Court of Public Opinion on Property Division
Two Vanderbilt law professors recently conducted a study to further explore this question. More than 3000 subjects were presented with facts about a hypothetical couple– we’ll call them John and Susan. After 5 years of marriage, they agreed that Susan would stay home to raise their growing family. Twelve years and three children later, John filed for divorce. Susan had not returned to work, and participants were asked to weigh in on how their assets should be divided.
They were then given one of six different scenarios with variations in the spouses’ careers, educational levels, and how much property they had acquired during marriage. Men thought Susan should receive more if she had a higher level of education. Regardless of Susan’s occupation and education, women were more likely to believe that she should be entitled to a larger award, while men (many of whom also placed value on caretaking), thought that John, as the breadwinner, should receive more.
The Court of Law on Property Division
At divorce, virtually every state stipulates that property be divided equitably, but only a few states require equal distribution. In most cases, stay-at-home moms don’t receive half of the joint property, and research shows that divorced mothers aren’t likely to be awarded long-term alimony.
How Should We Value Breadwinning and Homemaking?
The court of law and public opinion have yet to reach a verdict on whether we, as a society, should value the behind-the-scenes work of stay-at-home moms as equal to the labor of their breadwinning husbands. The only people for whom this may not be an issue are celebrities and high net worth individuals. Take MacKenzie Bezos, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Her divorce settlement will make her the third-richest woman in the world.