Now that women have solidly earned their place in the work force, many find themselves still yearning for something men often have: wives.
"The thing I most want in life is a wife. I'm not kidding," said Joyce Lustbader, a research scientist at Columbia University, who has been married for 29 years. "I work all day, sometimes seven days a week, and still have to go home and make dinner and have all those things to do around the house."
It is not just the extra shift at home that is a common complaint. Working women, whether married or single, also see their lack of devoted spousal support as an impediment to getting ahead in their careers, especially when they are competing against men who have wives behind them, whether those wives are working or staying at home. And research supports their argument: It appears that marriage, at least marriage with children, bolsters a man's career but hinders a woman's.
One specialist in women's studies dismissed wife envy as something women "are usually joking about" and another called it "a need for a second set of hands, regardless of gender." But therapists who work with couples on equality issues say it is no joke.
"I hear it all the time," said Robin Stern, a psychotherapist in Manhattan and author of The Gaslight Effect. "It's a real concern. Things that used to be routinely taken care of during the week are not anymore."
With two-income families now the norm, and both men and women working a record-breaking number of hours, the question has become how to accomplish what used to be a wife's job, even as old-fashioned standards of household management and entertaining have been relaxed. Many men are sharing the work of chores and child care with their wives, and some do it all as single parents, but women still generally shoulder a greater burden of household business (or fretting over how to do what is not getting done).
According to survey data from last year from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one in five men engages in some kind of housework on an average day, while more than half of women do.
"The real challenge is, companies expect you to perform as if someone is at home taking care of everything for you," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "Some men are better positioned to deal with these corporate demands, because they do have someone at home. Most women don't."
Working women have noticed, correctly, that their male colleagues with wife support -- whether or not those wives are themselves working outside the home -- get further at work than the women who are fettered by marriage and children. Women occupy 50.6 percent of managerial and professional positions, according to the research organization Catalyst, but make up only 15.6 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers.
Married men and women, on average, earn more than those who are unmarried, with part of that possibly attributed to career and wage advancement as workers mature (and are more likely to be married). But the gap is significantly larger for men than for women. Married women make an average 17 percent more than unmarried women, according to 2005 BLS data on the median earnings of full-time workers, while married men make 42 percent more than unmarried men.
A more statistically rigorous analysis published in 2004, using the Minnesota Twins Registry, tried to isolate the effect of marriage on earnings. It found that holding education and genetics constant, married male twins made 26 percent more than their unmarried brothers.