Last week was a bad week for working women. First came the news in the Sunday paper that the children of working mothers suffered in school. Then on Friday came the news that working wives may be causing their husbands heart attacks. Clearly, it is time for us to turn in our word processors and return to our food processors.
It is not clear why we are causing our husbands heart attacks, but the statistics say we are. According to a 10-year study of some 5,000 residents of Framingham, Mass., men married to well-educated women who worked outside the home were 7.6 times more likely to develop heart disease than men whose wives stayed at home. When the study considered only job status, it found that men married to women employed in white-collar jobs were at least three times more likely to develop heart disease than men whose wives were employed in clerical or blue-collar jobs or who were housewives.
I have, if truth be known, fantasized about early retirement on any number of occasions. I have considered quitting work in snowstorms and when I wake up tired and when I have absolutely no idea what to write about. I also considered quitting work when I realized how much of my income goes to child care. The idea of quitting occurs with alarming frequency in the summertime when I drive past the swimming pool on my way into Washington. I know that if I didn't work I, too, could be sitting by the pool, reading my morning newspaper, while my son the 7-year-old begins early training for the Olympics. I also know, however, that we might not be able to afford the membership to the pool.
Until now, I have never seriously considered quitting. It was our considered judgment (and I am a firm believer in letting every family make its own considered judgment) that for my family the equation worked out better if I worked. Now, however, there are new numbers to be factored in. Families trying to figure out who should work outside the home have a new worry. It is no longer merely a matter of who will take care of the children.
Now, the question is, who will take care of the fathers?
According to the Framingham study, certain men are in particular peril. These are the Type A men--the highly ambitious, driven men who are much more likely to get heart problems than the more easygoing Type B men. Type A and Type B, according to the study, had similar disease rates if they were married to housewives, but type A's rate tripled when their wives went to work outside the home.
I can see women across the country taking a hard look at their lives, not to mention their husbands. Young women who are not married and who are planning to have careers can at least be warned not to fall in love with Type A men. But consider the plight of the professional woman married to a Type A husband who reads in the paper that she is endangering his life. She can choose to either leave her job or her husband. Surely she can't continue working and living with the man if she knows she is personally numbering his days.
I, however, am beginning to worry about something else. If working wives can have such disastrous effects on the health of their husbands, what on earth have working husbands been doing to their wives all these years? Have working husbands been causing their wives' heart disease? Have Type A working wives been getting more heart disease when their husbands worked than Type B working wives?
The Framingham researchers are starting to look at these questions, but until the results are in, working wives need to take every precaution. One study says we are endangering our children's minds and another says we are endangering our husbands' health. The benefits of working--the larger home, the college education for the children, the security against divorce--just can't be worth it. Of course, some working wives might come to a different conclusion. Some might point out the newspaper article to their working Type A husbands and suggest that they mend their ways so they don't go to an early grave. On the other hand, getting one's spouse to change his or her ways is never easy.
No, the simplest thing would be for working wives to quit their jobs and return to the home. We could summer barefoot by the pool and winter pregnant by the fire, and our children and spouses could never complain about the lost income. After all, the studies are in and we can say it without batting an eye: We didn't quit the good life for ourselves.
We did it all for them.