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December 07, 1986|Janice Mall

MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS: WOMEN AND MEN IN DUAL-CAREER MARRIAGES by Rosanna Hertz (University of California: $18.95, 214 pp). In a thicket of scholarly context--overviews of previous research, methodology, footnotes, social theory--Hertz, an assistant professor of sociology at Wellesley, examines the lives of 21 Chicago-area couples who represent what Time magazine called "the new elite," couples in which both husband and wife hold upwardly mobile management jobs in corporations.

What emerges are some unpalatable thoughts about equality. It is purchasable. What makes these wives more equal with their husbands than other wives (those who do not work or hold mere jobs as opposed to careers) is not so much their intellect or achievement, in the Orwellian sense (the title is taken from "Animal Farm"), but their money. Likewise, these families--who had a median income of $90,250 per year--are "more equal" than other families. (The median income for all U.S. families is $22,388). In detailed discussion of how these couples manage home chores and child care, Hertz illuminates a dilemma for feminists: The very existence of a class of highly paid business women depends on maintaining a large pool of less fortunate women who work as domestics.

However, it is not feminism that motivates their life choices; it is their employers. Numerous quotes from the couples present an existence more poignant than their financial comfort would indicate. Both spouses work until 7 or 8 or 9 at night and on weekends, put in 60- and 70-hour weeks and travel on demand as much as half the year. American business is still in the traditional masculine mold in which the employee's personal and family life is irrelevant to the job. The question Hertz leaves is whether these elite husbands and wives, in their struggle to carve out some sort of family and personal life around the edges of their jobs, may cause change in business practices. The answer to date is that these couples have opted for the isolated self-sufficiency they can well afford. "The dual career family remains a 'haven in a heartless world' only because it has been sufficiently successful in the heartless world to financially afford a haven."

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