Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

The Deal: Wives, Entrepreneurial Business and Family Life

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

The Deal: Wives, Entrepreneurial Business and Family Life

Article excerpt


This article explores how wives of entrepreneurs make sense of the conflicts between their husbands' intense engagement with entrepreneurial business activity and their own belief in the idea of egalitarian intimate relationships. I argue that looking at family life in isolation from market work, or market work in isolation from non-market activities and relations, distorts our understandings of both. My findings suggest that, despite apparent change, belief in a gender-based deal continues to serve as a reference point. Belief in this deal not only shapes the choices that individual men and women make, but also shapes the nature of market and non-market life. The deal seems natural and therefore seems inevitable. As a result, the rules that govern resource use and the accumulation of different forms of capital have not been negotiated and remain non-negotiable. **

Keywords: Bourdieu; entrepreneurs; family; forms of capital; gender; the deal; work and family; wives


Anthony McMahon observes that 'everybody knows [that] men at the top of the social and political hierarchy depend on their wives' (1999: 45). In a similar way, everyone knows that entrepreneurial men rely on their wives. Male entrepreneurs and their wives seem to epitomise the persistence of the traditional deal in which men make the money and their wives do the rest. Yet, family relationships are often cast as non-economic and, as an ideal, are characterised as egalitarian and fulfilling. The present article contributes to the emerging interest in the interpenetrations of entrepreneurial business and family life (Mulholland 2003, Aldrich and Cliff 2003; Craig & Lindsay 2002) and more broadly, to the 'work/family' debate.

Previous literature

The cultural association of men with market activities and women with non-market activities is relatively recent (Connell 2005:370). With industrialisation, the market institutionalised particular forms of masculinity and femininity (Connell 2005:371). The market became a proving ground for men, so that 'manhood became contingent on success in market work' (Williams 2001:25). Women's domestic labour and support underpinned and enabled men's market work, but this was obscured by the ideology of domesticity which 'created a symbolic world ... divided into a private sphere of selfless women and a public sphere of market actors pursuing their own self-interest' (Williams 2001:31). As Connell (2005:371) pointed out, the idea of separate spheres did not just divide the spheres, 'the domestic was subordinated to the public. Modern capitalist society is thus marked by a structural subordination of women', because women are embedded in domesticity.

Williams (2001:23) argued that the ideology of domesticity was instrumental in recasting the family as 'primarily an emotional rather than an economic unit'. Maternal attention was--and continues to be--an important feature of the ideology of domesticity. As more women participated in the market, mothers became caught between conflicting ideologies. To be a 'good' mother one needs to stay at home and 'be there' for the children; but to do so is to pay 'the price of being treated as an outsider in the larger public world of the market' (Hays 1996:149). In this way, the ideology of intensive mothering means that neither 'good' mothers who stay at home and focus on their children, nor mothers who engage in market activity, can ever 'get it right'.

Work and family literature tends to highlight the ways in which individuals, especially women, are caught between the demands of the market and the domestic sphere, which they need to choose between, juggle or balance (Armstrong 2006). The idea of work/family balance obscures what Pocock (2003:15) called the 'seamless messy whole' of daily life, which cannot be neatly separated, balanced or juggled. It also masks the gendered division of market and non-market activities and relations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.