I feel very strongly about working: as long as I am able-bodied I plan to work. Being financially independent is absolutely critical for me, and this has nothing to do with my education or my ambition. Being educated and ambitious enables me to do what I love, but even if that weren't the case, I never ever planned on not working in any scenario. In fact, the thought of not being able to financially support myself and my children is absolutely terrifying to me.
My sentiments have to do with how I was brought up. I grew up with my sister, parents, and maternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother was one of the smartest, fiercest, and most energetic people I have ever known. Her family did not allow her to go to school past the 4th grade (this was before World War II) because she was a girl and this was her biggest regret -- not having been able to further her education and having to be financially dependent her entire life on my grandfather, who was a nice man with very little appetite for advancement. My grandmother had two daughters, my mom and my aunt, and always insisted that they have "their own piece of bread" (a literal translation of an expression that means they should earn their own money, be able to sustain themselves). Unfortunately, neither my aunt nor my mother finished college even though they both started it, but they both earned associate's degrees and held good white-collar jobs their entire lives.
In the country where I grew up nearly everybody works. It's really not possible to sustain a family on one income. As a result, many married women stay married to men that they should divorce because they cannot afford to support the children on their own. If a married woman doesn't work, people feel sorry for her husband, because there are only two reasons for her not working -- either she can't find work or she's lazy and doesn't want to, and both are reasons to pity the husband.
Even though a majority of women work, they are trapped by the inability to earn enough. My parents' marriage was not happy. They stopped loving each other long before I can first remember, and I really cannot recall ever seeing anything resembling affection between them. My mom always worked but my father made more money (she worked while he finished his BS, then later his MS). The fact that he made more money was always yet another reason to put her down, which he often did. He was also a serial philanderer. They finally divorced when I was in my early 20's, which was way past due if you ask me. One thing about parents divorcing when you are an adult is that you may actually hear more details about their life than you ever cared to know -- for instance, I know that my father gave my mother crabs when she was pregnant with my baby sister. Can you imagine the humiliation? And she stayed married to him for another 15 or so years, because she did not have the support -- moral or financial -- from her parents, with whom my family lived, to leave my father (their attitude was "You are the wife, you gotta shut up and take it") and she could not afford to raise the kids on her own.
As I was growing up, I remember my mother buying clothes and then hiding them, because my father would always give her shit about anything that she did or bought for herself. After hiding the clothes, she could pull them out later and pretend that she'd had them for a long time and that they weren't new. My father spared no expense for his beloved daughters, but his wife was not so fortunate. So even though she earned a salary, she could not go and buy what she wanted. Witnessing this was very disturbing.
Now imagine the same situation, but without her working. I bet that he simply would not give her money to buy anything until he decided she could.
The thought of someone telling me what I can and cannot buy (we are talking small stuff here) makes me positively crimson with rage. Early in my marriage, my husband used to tell me I spend too much money on coffee. We were broke, raising a kid on two student stipends, but I still believe I should have been allowed my daily coffee. These comments where pissing me off to high heaven. Now imagine the same situation, but without me having my own stipend...
Even now, my husband and I have separate checking accounts and separate credit cards; the mortgage is in my name alone; we have a joint savings through which we also transfer money to each other. Maybe there are relationships out there where women are comfortable enough to stay home with the kids and let the husband support them, and the husbands do not look down on their wives, but my experiences are such that I would never allow myself to be financially supported if I could help it. I feel that not bringing in a paycheck would mean that I am relinquishing the rights to make decisions about the money and would prevent me from being a true partner to my husband. Perhaps this also means that I don't trust my husband entirely, but it is what it is. It is not my husband's fault; there is nobody on this earth whom I would trust in this way.
And none of this even touches upon the situation in which the husband, however wonderful he may be, simply loses his job. Or dies. What happens then to the wife and the kids if the wife doesn't work, if she hasn't worked in years?
I think it's great that some women feel secure enough in their relationships that they can stay at home and take care of the children while the husbands work. I just must say that I don't fully understand such a choice, and I am well aware that I never might. It probably takes having absolute belief in harmonious, committed relationships for life. It probably also takes growing up in a country with a much more robust economy than my homeland's to give one such faith in the husband's job security.