Nathan Sawaya


Recently I wrote a post about how to pick a husband if you want to have kids. A lot of people asked that I write the male corollary to that post. So, here it is.

This post is about identity. How to see yourself. How to figure out if you can remake yourself. How to make a life that is true to yourself. And, put more bluntly, how to get the best deal in a wife given who you are.

For men, there are three choices: breadwinner, and stay-at-home dad, and  shared responsibilities. 

Choice 1: Be the Breadwinner

The first thing is that you need a realistic sense of who you can be. The breadwinner and the stay-at-home dad are the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most families end up with some blended scenario where there are two incomes and both parents pitch in with the household duties.

The easiest thing for most men to imagine is that they are the breadwinner. Then they don’t have to do a lot of compromising with their wife. The wife takes care of things at home, and they take care of things at work. It’s a very clear division of labor.

This setup has been proven to create the most stable marriages. It makes sense because there is someone whose full-time job it is to take care of the marriage. So the marriage and the family stays together.

This setup also creates the highest earners. Most men at the top of corporate life have a stay-at-home wife supporting them at home.

The first factor to consider in this scenario is that you have to be a stable earner. The more money you earn, the more women you have to choose from. You cannot attract women who cannot live on your salary. So really, you can be a breadwinner at any salary if you can find a woman willing to stay home on your salary.

Something to consider is that salaries top out at age 40. They only keep rising for people who are climbing the very top of the corporate ladder or people who own their own company. So if you are a regular employee or middle manager, you should figure that you will not keep increasing your salary after age 40. On top of that, nearly all the people who are senior in corporate America have a Myers Briggs score of ENTJ or something very close to that—ESTJ, for example.

There are exceptions, of course. But you’re playing an odds game here. If you are getting married in your mid 30s, you are pretty much at the pay level you will be at for the rest of your life. So pick a woman who can live on that.

If you are in your 20s, you should take the Myers Briggs test and you will find out if you have a personality type that will feel fulfilled longterm by working long hours and competing at a high level while leaving the brunt of family life responsibilities  to your wife.

Choice 2: Marry a Breadwinner

Stay-at-home dads don’t do the homemaker job like moms do. They usually have huge side projects going on that feel like a part-time job to them even if they are not directly earning money. (Remodeling the house in a series of small projects, for example.) So the men are often pretty happy with the arrangement.

Until they are not. There’s a huge social stigma to men staying home with kids.  But also, there’s a sexual stigma. Women want to marry someone who earns more than they do, even women with extremely high salaries.

You’d think that as long as one of the spouses is taking care of the family full-time, then it wouldn’t matter which one was in the breadwinner role. But in fact, if a man’s hours at work increase to garner a higher salary, there is no negative impact on the marriage. But as a woman increases her hours to earn a higher salary, the chances of her getting a divorce go way up. (Here’s the citation for that data – a bunch of academic publications.)

That said, if you want to stay home with kids, your best bet is to find a woman who has already shown that she is comfortable working very long hours with little personal life. Because if she can’t do that before she has kids, she’s not going to want to do it after she has kids.

Also, we can talk about the wide range of women who can be successful, yes, but at the top of the corporate ladder, the women are just like the men: all ENTJs. And less than 1% of all women are ENTJs, so you have your work cut out for you if you want to find one.

For those ENTJ women who want to climb the corporate ladder, your willingness to stay home is gold. For women, having decision-making responsibilities at home decreases their chances of advancing at work. So having a competent, take charge, stay-at-home partner would be essential for this type of spouse’s career success.

(The breadwinner must earn a lot to support a husband and kids. But if you are thinking you could live off a lot less if you could just get a breadwinner who doesn’t want kids, try an INTJ. Women who are INTJs are most likely to not want kids. )

Choice 3: Shared Parenting

In each of the above examples, one spouse gives up the majority of time they could spend with their kids in order to have a huge, exciting—and high paying—job. In this scenario there is no trade off like that. And there is no high-paying job.

Increasing numbers of men want to spend more time with their families. This shift among Generation X dads has been building for years and exploded during the last recession when it became clear that women were out-earning men and the the recession was hitting men disproportionately. The rise in stay-at-home dads looked like it was a result of men being unemployed but it turns out that men really want to spend more time with their kids by choice.

The problem is that we have no proven  road map for how this might work. Because first of all, in households where men think men and women split the housework, women think they do the majority of it and in reality, the women are right. On top of that, in the homes where there is shared care, many women outearn their husbands, and women do not usually like this. They tell their husband that they don’t care. Then they tell pollsters they can’t stand it.

The immediate impact of establishing shared household duties is less sex, according to American Sociological Review. But that’s just one of the potentially explosive issues related to shared care.

Landmine: Instability. Now both spouses are minimally engaged at work, so neither is a stable breadwinner and both are vulnerable at work in their 40s when they are competing with 29-year-0lds for the same job and the 29-year-old is full of potential and can work 24/7 because they have no kids.

Landmine: Change of heart. Partners who are agreeing to do both types of family labor instead of specializing at work are the people most likely to have a change of heart. This is true because it’s a poorly-defined sense of identity, as no one is equally suited to work and stay home with kids – they are fundamentally opposite skills when compared to almost every job.

Landmine: Your wife falls in love with the kids. We all know that when a woman says she will go back to work after maternity leave, it doesn’t happen until it happens. Because so many women are completely different after they have kids. Who knows what your wife will really want to do if she was never all that committed to work to begin with?

Women who are most likely to be tortured that they are not climbing the ladder: ENFJ.

Women who are most likely to change their mind and not want to go back to work after the baby: ISFJ.

Women most likely to be disappointed that there is so little combined earning power in this arrangement: ESFP.

Women who are most likely to be dissatisfied in life no matter what choices they make: INFP.

(You can learn how to figure out the personality type of the women you meet if you sign up for my Myers Briggs webinar.)

What to do?

This approach to picking a mate may seem crass, but what you’re really trying to do is mitigate family trauma down the line. If you look at a situation realistically, and consider the odds based on objective evidence—research—you can see if it will be likely possible for each person to get what they want, or that they should move on to someone else, rather than have children together.

It’s true that you do need to commit to your financial goals and figure out what you can contribute before you pick a spouse. Otherwise you’re just shooting in the dark and you may as well just go date a girl who reads.