This isn’t exactly a flourishing economy, and hasn’t been, these past few years, so I can see why it is likely much more common than before. It’s an employer’s market. That means it is much more tempting not to be an employee than it used to be. If employers aren’t offering good opportunties, with good work-life balance, at a good salary, anymore, many workers feel forced to do lower-quality work, with worse work-life balance, for less salary. But some may have another option: to stop, at least temporarily.
How? It varies. Some couples have one spouse who is bringing in so much income, it’s enough for their lifestyle to go on, basically unchanged. Others may willingly downsize their lifestyle, deciding that not having Joneses to worry about keeping up with at work means that there are a lot of things they used to spend on that they are no longer interested in spending on. So much money is spent by the average person on keeping up with the Joneses that this is often sufficient to make up for an entire spouse’s income. Others may have savings, a trust fund, an inheritance.
I described these situations as if the person is very happy to retire or temporarily retire from the work world (“funemployment”), and that’s true in some cases, but most stay-at-home spouses are more conflicted about it, and often spending a considerable amount of time figuring out how best to go about generating an income again.
They face a lot of hostility, but the fact is, they are helping us employed persons by removing themselves, at least temporarily, from the market: How will it become an employees’ market again, with good jobs, good work-life balance, good salaries? Not by employees swamping employers with applications for crappy jobs with low pay, that’s for sure. Employees need to play a little harder to get… desperation is not desirable. It gives employers the upper hand, and they will take that advantage, to the fullest extent possible. So, CAN most employees play hard to get? No, of course not… many families are living from paycheck to paycheck, many people are desperate to stay in a job…any job…no matter what… and there are valid reasons why that’s the case (that is, reasons why that isn’t their fault). Stay-at-home spouses at least help counterbalance that effect.
Many families could afford to live on one salary if they made certain changes to their present lifestyle and future plans that they don’t really want to make – FI and I are in that boat. We are trying to accumulate savings for specific goals for our future, and we want that sooner rather than later. So we stay employed, though we always have the confidence to know that either of us can quit if our employer starts giving us a raw deal. And we do not resent stay-at-home spouses. We very much wish to be retired, but because of our unique situation (everyone’s situation is unique), retirement still has to wait.