As the husband of a successful female executive, I know all too well the issues that can arise when a wife earns more than her spouse. From dealing with outside opinions to mutual respect and other issues at home, the income discrepancy will, most certainly, be a challenge for any couple — but why?
Women in Leadership Roles
As more women enter the corporate world, it has become increasingly common for wives to make more than their husbands. According to the 2016 data gathered from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 29% of American wives in hetero/dual-income marriages earn more than their spouses.
Even as women’s contributions grow, outdated expectations prevail. In fact, a 2017 report published by the Pew Research Center found that Americans still see men as primary financial providers. The article cites that roughly seven in ten adults (71%) say it is very important for a man to be able to support a family financially to be a good husband or partner, with men being especially likely to place a greater emphasis on their role as financial providers. Thus, most men in the U.S. are more comfortable being the breadwinner.
Traditionally, men have been expected to take the lead in a relationship, especially financially, and to be the front-runner.
— Professor Aaron Rochlen, University of Texas at Austin
Early Challenges – Dating
My wife, Mirka, and I met in the weeks before my brother’s wedding, where I was his best man and she was the maid of honor. I had thought that I had seen the big world as I toured Germany, but here was a woman who had lived in virtually every continent. She was working on her doctorate in international management and I hadn’t started college. Nonetheless, she told me that I was different from all the men with advanced degrees and big ambitions who had wanted to date her. She also told me that she saw me as an intellectual equal who wasn’t out to prove himself a superior scholar and wage earner. We soon married.
As fortunate as we were to make it to the marriage/children stage of our lives, this is not true for all young couples. A recent study from researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Virginia found evidence to suggest that a woman’s level of accomplishments can greatly affect her overall chances of marriage. In other words, if a couple meets in college or at the earlier stages of their careers, they will begin on the same level. It is not until she begins to experience a greater level of success that his insecurities will arise. Once he begins to feel as though he is not seen as superior in the relationship, he will begin to project these insecurities onto the woman, making the chances of their long-term success far less favorable.
If a couple does make it to the marriage stage of their relationship, there will always be problems. Still, when it comes to the woman earning more than her spouse, these issues can be much more complicated.
In a comment to the New York Post, Farnoosh Torabi, author of When She Makes More, stated that, “If there’s one person who feels their paycheck defines their self-worth, that can be a tough thing to get over.”On her end, it could be feeling resentful that she’s taking on so much. Or him feeling ‘less than,’ because of not being able to provide financially — which, for men, has always been what they were expected to do.”
Common arguments between couples in which the wife earns more money can be as frivolous as who chooses the vacation destinations or who does a larger portion of the housework, to more serious arguments about investments, where the children attend college and who pay the larger portion of the bills.
As couples become more resentful toward each other, their relationship can begin to deteriorate. Many times their sex life is the first to suffer. A woman may not be as sexually motivated if she does not see her husband as “the man” she once saw him as. If a man feels emasculated, he may feel the urge to cheat with a woman who makes him feel like more of a man. The list goes on and on. For some couples, seeking outside help from friends, family and/ or professional counselors helps them to work through their differences and find common ground. For others, egos, resentment, and constant bickering can result in divorce.
In fact, according to a 2016 study by Harvard professor Alexandra Killewald, the risk of divorce is nearly 33% higher when a husband isn’t working full-time and slightly higher if he wasn’t working at all. Some researchers say, however, that the link between female breadwinners and divorce is weakening as societal views and expectations slowly change.
As for my wife and me, we have learned to work through our differences for the betterment of our relationship and our family. In my book, Lean On, I explore challenges non-traditional families face and how you can make it all work for your family.