It's 4.30 on a still Sunday afternoon, the kind that feels like the city is holding its breath before the onslaught of Monday morning. I am taking a drive through Auckland's Herne Bay, where the streets of groomed villas in neutral tones, with their hyper-manicured gardens and European cars give the neighbourhood a soothing, Pixar-like feel. And behind these softly closed doors are some of New Zealand's best-educated, most senior business people: lawyers, doctors, bankers, chief executives, business owners, creative executives. High-stress careers that pay off financially but usually come with a long period of tertiary study, a hefty dollop of responsibility, and stress of the kind that keeps the cardiac ward at Auckland Hospital humming. There are many families in Herne Bay and its surrounding suburbs that are powered by a single engine. It's certainly not the norm: nationally in 2010, more than two thirds of two-parent families were dual-earner families, up from a half during the early 1980s. But with big incomes often comes a sole breadwinner who shoulders the financial responsibility for the family while their spouse manages the home. I want to know how it plays out for them. Whether they sleep well at night, knowing that supporting their families in the most expensive neighbourhood in New Zealand is all down to them. For the majority of these high-powered sole breadwinners, the bulk of the stress comes from the work itself, rather than from the lack of a second income. Stress is standard in the corporate world: intense environments with long hours, shareholders, and pressure to deliver ever-greater returns. "There's an immediacy expected, an always 'on' feel to everything," says Craig McCann, an advertising executive who lives in Herne Bay with his stay-at-home wife Luci McCann and their two daughters. Recently, Craig tried to explain to some fresh graduates how things worked before the mobile phone: "You had a secretary," he explained. "She would take a message, write it down on a piece of paper, and put it on your desk for when you got back." One of the graduates, incredulous, asked, "But what if you didn't get back until the next day?" Despite the pace, Craig likes the challenge. He would be working just as hard, with or without a family to support. But he admits that like Parkinson's Law, where work expands to fit the time available, so their family's spending has increased with his rising earnings. "For professional people who are driven and high achieving that's how you look at it" he says. "Your mindset is to be able to afford a certain lifestyle and do the things that are important to you. I think that's what drives me." He and Luci appreciate the teamwork possible with one parent at home. It means their children always have a parent on hand to pick them up from school, oversee homework, be on the sidelines at swimming sports, and hundreds of other tiny things that are so much harder with both parents working full time. When their first child was 10 months old, Luci returned to her job as an advertising executive. "We were both working a million hours a week and it was really stressful," she says. "The whole family unit was stressed." She was regularly up working until 1am to keep up. She threw in the towel after a couple of years. Now she manages every aspect of their home and finances with dedicated efficiency. "We've got a great household CFO," says Craig. "I spend my entire time doing that in my working life, it's nice to not have to do it at home." Toby Moore* is managing director of an investment firm while his wife Isabel Moore, a lawyer, looks after their three children at home in neighbouring St. Mary's Bay. Although his job contributes the lion's share of his stress, he wouldn't have it any other way - he's always been super-ambitious. He remembers sitting on his grandfather's knee when he was 5 years old, going through the share tables together. "I've always been fascinated with money and wealth," he says. "The process of making it." But it does take its pound of flesh. He recently turned 40, but already he is on medication for high blood pressure. "The minute I had children, health and wealth, my ability to earn, became overwhelming," he says. "If something puts them at risk, my stress goes through the roof." Toby (the son of two doctors) says his mother elected to stay home to look after him and his siblings. For him it was an idyllic scenario he'd always wanted to repeat with his own family. So it works perfectly for him having wife Isabel at home full-time. But if she wants to work - which she sometimes does - he's happy to support her. "I try not to be the picture the whole time," he says. "I try to be the frame sometimes."
The minute I had children, health and wealth, my ability to earn, became overwhelming. If something puts them at risk, my stress goes through the roof.Ultimately, it's a trade-off. With two incomes there is more money, and who doesn't want that? But it can come at a cost. In 2015 Washington's Pew Research Centre released data showing that for more than half of families, having both parents working full-time means family time gets squeezed, parenting is more stressful, and life feels perpetually rushed. It makes sense then, that many sole breadwinners are happy their spouse is at home managing the family. It's an arrangement reminiscent of 1960's inspired American drama Mad Men, with its frustrated housewives and aloof, self-doubting career men. But unlike the trademark behind-closed-doors angst of the show, most couples I interview say they are satisfied. Vicky Mair, an early childhood teacher, is married to software contractor Frank Mair. Vicky has been at home since they had children. "I love being at home, and he loves working," she says. "Our roles are clearly defined." It does mean however, that they have to keep an eye on the spending, something that can become harder in a big spending area, where the badges of belonging can run to the thousands, or even millions of dollars, and where there is pressure to fit in, to reflect the norms of the neighbourhood.