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When Women Earn More Money: Can This Destroy Your Marriage?

When Women Earn More Money: Can This Destroy Your Marriage?

Traditionally, the man in a relationship is the “provider,” earning most of the money. What happens to marriage/partner relationships when women earn more money than men?

One of my favorite books is The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. It’s short and well written with good pacing and suspense. And it says something profound about gender relationships.

The biggest misconception about The Stepford Wives is that the book calls out housewives and makes fun of them. While the women of Stepford are, in fact, “perfect” housekeepers, they aren’t that way by choice. They’re (spoiler alert!) automatons created by their husbands to serve their whims.

The point of The Stepford Wives is not that there’s something wrong with a clean house and a devoted mother; the point is that many men have a hard time with strong, independent, successful women. The book was written during a time when women were starting to come into their own, and starting to explore their potential – and there was a lot of pushback from men who wanted to maintain the status quo.

As I read a recent article from The Atlantic, it occurred to me that not much has changed in the more than 40 years since The Stepford Wives was written. It still appears that many men resent being married to successful women.

Women earn more

What Happens in Marriages when Women Earn More?

I am fortunate. My husband is supportive of my writing career – even though we live in a very traditional community and he is sometimes teased for not earning as much as I do. Well, he’s sometimes teased by people who actually know who the primary breadwinner in our family happens to be. In reality, many of our neighbors assume that he’s the primary breadwinner. It doesn’t matter that I stay home while earning more. The fact is that I earn more, and some of the men around here think that reflects somehow on my husband’s “manhood.”

Even with the teasing, though, my husband doesn’t hide who earns more money; he acknowledges it comfortably. He grew up around strong women with jobs, and he is used to women who speak their minds and enjoy a certain level of financial success.

But not all men are comfortable with the idea of women as primary breadwinners. For many men, it feels like a direct slap in the fact when women earn more money. Gender roles seem to be changing a bit, but some things still seem to remain the same — at least according to the research cited by The Atlantic . In our society, men are still often associated with being “providers,” and providing is often associated with true manliness. If you aren’t earning a living for your family, how can you be a “true” man? And what are you supposed to do with yourself if your identity isn’t wrapped up in earning more than your spouse?

According to the research presented in The Atlantic article, marriages struggle when women earn more money. This isn’t always the case, of course (my marriage is an exception), but it seems to be a reality. As a result, some women scale back their ambitions and give up careers. After all, says the article, quoting a paper on the subject, “husbands hate being out-earned by their wives, and wives hate living with husbands who resent them.”

It’s a very Stepford situation. In The Stepford Wives, the men are annoyed with having successful wives who have hobbies and interests outside the home. None of these women have jobs, though (after all, women in the workplace weren’t as common when the book was written). The men don’t want to share housework and child-rearing responsibilities. So, they are fine with killing their uppity wives and creating lifelike robots of them – altered to be at the peak of physical attractiveness – that are completely devoted to their own needs and wants.

We see something similar in the research presented, and in some of the teasing my husband receives for doing household chores (he doesn’t do them all; my son and I do our share, too). The article points out that not only are there women that earn more money than their spouses, but in many of those situations, the women actually do more of the housework, as if compensating for the fact that they are stepping on their husbands’ egos; they do more of the “women’s work” on top of working outside the home.

marriage and money

Can Marriages Where Women Earn More Money Be Happy?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be happy for each other? My husband doesn’t mind that I earn more, partly because we look at our combined earnings as a way to achieve our desired lifestyle. Sometimes we disagree about what to spend our money on, but overall we are working toward the same general goals and lifestyle.

On top of that, the fact that I earn more has allowed him to do what he really loves – teach. He’s a university instructor, and my income allows him to do that without having to worry about whether he’s making “enough.” I know women who insist that their husbands work at higher-paying jobs (that they hate) so that they can live their desired lifestyles while staying home and taking care of the house.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being primarily a homemaker/chief household officer/whatever you want to call it. I think we all have different goals and desires. What’s sad to me is when a woman (or anyone, for that matter) feels like she has to hold back for fear that her husband will resent her. Yes, we all make compromises in marriage, and we don’t always get exactly what we want all the time.

But worrying that your husband is going to be threatened by your earning power is a sad way to go about things, in my opinion.

Simone de Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, makes an interesting observation about the quest for the woman who wants to “emerge, herself, into the light of transcendence.” De Beauvoir points out that often, “it is with a bad grace that the man lets her go.”

What do you think? Is your income situation traditional or less traditional? How would (or how does) a less traditional earning situation affect your marriage?

Written by Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger, specializing in personal finance, small business, and investing topics. She writes for a number of financial web sites and blogs, and has been featured in numerous media. Read about life as a freelancer at MirandaMarquit.com and in her book Confessions of a Professional Blogger.

50 Responses to When Women Earn More Money: Can This Destroy Your Marriage?

  1. Me and W go back and forth. If he has a good month, then he can easily surpass what I make from my job plus side hustles. He makes more than I do at my day job every month though, which some think is crazy because I have 3 degrees while he has none.

    At first people teased him about him making less all the time. However, since he got this new job last year, that has changed since he is making more.

    I see nothing wrong with either person making more! 🙂

    • It’s all about what you do with what you have, I guess, and whether what you have is in demand 😉 I make more with my M.A. than my husband does with his Ph.D. But I’ve been the primary breadwinner as long as we’ve been married.

    • I like this idea of seeing it as a joint effort. Unfortunately, too many equate money with value as a person. I think when anyone sees money as THE measure of personal worth, though, that’s when it gets tough. Since someone who attaches personal worth and identity to earning more than the next person, living with someone who makes more can be difficult.

  2. Our situation is anything but traditional. I have been the main breadwinner for almost a decade now – I have a job and my husband has been making it on his own in a difficult area. We don’t care who thinks what and in fact some people arround are like us. Others assume that I don’t work at all because of my flexible hours and being able to work from home. Our marriage is strong but we had to renegotiate the contract – I can’t earn 70% of the money and do 100% of the household chores.

    • Haha. Good point! We don’t actual delineate chores. For the most part, we all just pitch in and do whatever needs doing — although some of the chores seem to be done more by one or the other. And our son has chores that he regularly does, too. I think it’s too bad that so often, in families with kids, that so many people overlook the value of making sure kids pick up some of the slack.

  3. This has been true for me my entire adult life. I’ve always out earned my partner. The problem lies in the degree of mutual respect. If the other person is lazy, lacks self-confidence or is a freeloader, well…I lose respect. Over time, my lack of respect destroys the relationship.

    So, I agree with the woman who said “One has to see it as joint income, joint effort.” Good communication doesn’t hurt either!

    Ree ~ I blog at EscapingDodge.com

    • I think you make a good point. Do you have respect for your partner? Even though my husband earns less than I do, he works hard, is a great professor, and adds to our quality of life. So the respect is definitely there — and it has nothing to do with money. 🙂

    • I always made more than my wife for years. She begged me to change my job for a better family life. So I did. Now the roles have changed and she makes more. She is gone often for work and I do the majority of housework and raising our kids. After doing taxes she told me how much more she made this year. I reminded her the sacrifice I made of my career and how I do most of our domestic and raising our kids. She said to me which was meant to be demeaning , “whatever I make more than you”.

  4. It you combine your income in a marriage, it should only be a good thing if more money is earned. I think you are letting pride get in the way if not. After all, the more she makes, the better you both are.

  5. It’s great to see gender roles changing, and I think that this change has accelerated in the past five years or so.

  6. I think it all comes down to what you and your significant other feel about the situation – not what the society thinks or expects. If you have a relationship where money making is perceived a joint effort (as is the case with my relationship), then it doesn’t make any difference who is earning more – we are both working for a common goal.

  7. At a certain point in our relationship, I got a raise that would put my salary above that of my husband. He was quite upset about it. I offered to go in there and refuse the raise. He looked at me, blinked a few times and since then it was “you go girl!”

  8. I loved the fact that my wife made more money than I did when we worked………. she had to, as she spent twice as much as I did!!!

  9. Lol! I love Rosemary’s story. Miranda, I think it’s about a man’s pride getting hurt. His alpha side, his ego or whatever you call. I guess, it’s because society expects much from males that husbands tend to think less of themselves as a man if he earns less than his wife. I guess, it’s some kind of psychological thing… This made me think though, a lot! Thanks for the great share in Bizsugar!

  10. I see a bunch of bull being slung here. The problem most men have is that women have double standards. It is perfectly okay to have your cake and eat it too as a woman post-feminist revolution. But a man can’t be lesser than financially, lest he be deemed as financially insufficient. There’s a reason these kinds of marriages end at a higher divorce rate than the average. And no, it’s not SOLELY male ego. Women can have millions in the bank and will still value a man’s bankbook at the end of the day (see Salma Hayek).

    This is probably even more true in America. There’s a warped sense of a man’s value being tied en masse to what he makes/doesn’t make. Women that are high earners are still seen as an anomaly, even though it really isn’t the case as much as feminists want the world to believe.

    • A lot of North Americans still believe in the man earning more than the woman, especially in Southern states.

  11. In my marriage things are not as good. I am a hard working immigrant in my husbands country. I have no network or friends here. And yet for the last 3 years I have paid my husbands mortgage ( I have no title to the property), fed and clothed him and paid for flights, holidays etc. in this time he was unemployed for almost a year and then held a series of short term jobs all of with ended after approx. 3 months. They started with proud stories how such-and-such “friend” of my husband had his contract extended for many years in each job and invariably once my husband got it it turned out he was a victim of bigotry and his boss was invariably more stupid than my husband. All of the jobs finished after a few months each and he did not split with employers on good terms. He is infertile too but I had to pay for treatment and all. For 3 years he has been paying overdue taxes, so he says, because he chose to spend his life savings and the money due for tax flying his different ” friends” who I have not seen since and his extensive family to our wedding, 5 years ago. He did that without asking me and ran out of money on our honeymoon. Ever since he was penniless. Now due to 5 year struggle and determination I managed to get pregnant and I am still working in the 8 the month of my pregnancy because I can’t afford not to. My husband moved to another city to an allegedly well paying job but despite working there for half a year all he managed to do was pay off the ” overdue ” taxes. I had to pay his mortgage and , as I have done since we got married all of normal expenses like food etc. he bought me an iPad cover for birthday, and yet he can afford to smoke cigarettes which cost nearly £10 for a pack, while I try to cut off coupons to save money on food. I don’t get my hair done, go to restaurants, get any beauty treatments and buy food in the cheapest stores and yet never manage to save anything because life is so expensive and my husband provides so little. Now with 2 twins on the way and a perspective to lose 80% of my income I am not sure what to do. My husband announced he would quit his job to be with the kids but he has no savings or a job lined up and I think he expects to live off my modest savings again. I am not having it. I am planning to go back to my own country where luckily I have a flat which I bought with my life savings before we got married and try to survive on maternity payments there since life is cheaper there. But it is very, very demoralising for me to have a husband like this.

    • I’m sorry to hear about that. That’s tough! It can be difficult when you feel as though your partner isn’t contributing. I think the key is mutual respect and for everyone to pitch in. Good luck to you on your path!

  12. Actually it’s more important for the wife to earn than the husband in most cases. Males have much greater physical power so the female should have the main money power because it helps make up for her lack of physical power. If both spouses are unemployed, the wife should normally take the first job available,if she qualifies.

    • I like this one… The truth is, the Woman gets her Power from the Influence she can exert while a man needs a Position to b able to exercise his Power lol. No wonder a male doctor can marry a matriculant girl. It can never be the otherway round!

  13. In my case things are not as bad, but they are not perfect. I have always made more money than my husband and even though he insists this does not affect him, he will be constantly mad at me for no particular reason, specially after I receive a promotion at work.
    I also do all the chores around the house and look after his 7 year old son during the weekends when he lives with us. I do not mind doing so because I enjoy having the traditional approach on being a wife.
    I am not trying to portray my husband as a bad person, since he is a very loving and caring husband.

  14. Young man here, I’m not married but I’ve said for a while now I’d only marry a woman who makes more money than me unless divorce laws change.

    With how divorce laws work right now essentially the higher earner is always the loser in a divorce regardless of how at fault the low earner is for ruining the marriage.

    If I had a high earning wife I think she’d treat me better and be less likely to file for divorce (70% of divorces are initiated by women) because she has more to lose in a divorce.

    • Not really, unless you don’t plan to have kids. Women will always spend more time and effort than men doing household work and child care. I earn more than my husband and only stay married to him because I want our kids to stay put till they finish highschool. After that – I don’t really have anything to loose but my chains. I have zero respect for men who have no ambition to provide for their family.

    • False.
      Trust me. Speaking as a man with this experience. You are not as valued. Very Disposable.
      High earner women can toss you away and not look back.
      High earner men stayed with their women and raised their families. Notice the divorce rates skyrocketed after the 1960’s. I.e., women’s lib.
      Not knocking women, but the statistics and plain human nature speaks volumes.

      • Oh and you will still owe child support no matter how low income you have and even if she earns three times you’re salary, and the state allows “visitation” with your own child : )

  15. I love the fact that my wife makes 2.5x what I do! Men, this is a dream situation for us. Let your egos go! I support her love of her career. She supports my love to escape my career and do what I love.. ultramarathoning around the world.

    Because grateful and live it up!

    • That’s great but many women treat you like a worthless bum if you don’t produce. Not against women working, but if women take more jobs that’s less jobs for men, so this is gonna be a problem. It already is.
      Most women’s nature (whether they want to admit it or not) is that they in some way usually want to be protected and taken care of. Security.
      Men want to provide that. If they can’t. It sucks. For both parties.

  16. In my case I am the ambitious one moving abroad for work, earning more for better further is all what I want and I work hard for that. My husband doesn’t mind using my earning but the twist in my life is I don’t get any love, care or affection in return. I would takecare of house, child, work and earn more then him. But very get even a flower on birthday, instead would be blame, bulled and insulted on all possible case. Being in this relationship since almost 10 years, I try my best to keep us together for the child and hope things would turn better soon. And I have a feeling me earning more then him is also one of the possible reason.

  17. I earn 2x more than my husband. He says and does all the right things, such as telling me that it doesn’t bother him, and he equally shares in household work (we put in about the same number of hours at our offices). We make joint decisions on how to spend money. BUT. the but BUT. I am constantly worried that it secretly hurts his ego. I make CERTAIN never to flaunt money, I let him write the mortgage check so that he feels he is “providing,” I make all the dinners, if the topic comes up with friends in their own situtions I hide our own facts so as not to embarrass him.

    The one clue I have that tells me it secretly bothers him, is that periodically he and I both have career opportunities that would relocate us. When my opportunity has come up, he says “Well, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it, I’ll just have to build a bridge and get over it because your income dictates what we do.” I don’t like that attitude, because if the situation were flipped, I would absolutely resent being Told where we are moving to and having to scrap together a make-do job in our new location and give up any sense of career continuity. I want to extend him the greatest respect and mutual consideration in JOINT decision-making, but he won’t accept it and just makes snide sarcastic remarks like that.

    • That’s a hard situation to be in. Until our society makes more fundamental changes, that’s still likely to happen. Good luck to you.

      • Some things will never change, such as women bearing and raising children. A better approach is to help women to fulfill their purpose. USA is the only developed country with no paid maternity leave. In this situation the woman can only rely on her husband support, savings, or free help from grandparents. You are very fortunate to be able to work from home and make a good leaving. Many cannot. How are parents able to take kids to their activities,playdates, school events if all is happening during business hours? How can women focus on work if their child is sick laying on the floor at some daycare? Men need to step up, and the government needs to step up, and then there will be more happy and healthy children and less drug addicts and criminals. The issue is much bigger than men and women ego matching.

  18. I don’t find this an easy situation. I am in my second marriage, again in a better financial position than my husband, yet I find it hard to accept than he cannot really afford the same level of life style that I can and want. I have tried to tone down my standards, but deep down we are creatures of habit. When the woman is responsibly for major purchases, such as a home, and must face all the financial responsibility alone- sometimes I think better to be alone! It is too destabilizing. One thing is when there is a slight difference, another is when there is a huge difference. I agree that if there are joint projects, even not equally split, that is ok, but when it all falls on one- esp. The woman- it is very tough to truly be ok with. I probably am more ill at ease with it than my husband. I take full care of my three kids from my first marriage, so I have that responsibility as well. I think it is easy to say we are all modern and open minded, but old concepts take a long time to erase. Many women still want to feel their husband is the main provider- not to depend on him, simply to feel taken care of. I feel like I take care of too many people! Unfortunately, resentment tends to fester below, which can eat away at the relationship.
    Each situation is different, so it’s hard to generalize, and I am glad there are women making more than men- my point is when the rift is too big…

    • It is always too big for women with a very few exceptions. Soviet Union granted women all the rights and responsibilities that men had. Result? Women working all sorts of hard labor jobs, falling childbirth rates, 50% divorce rate, depressed men commuting suicide and drinking because they don’t feel important any more. Mass woman exodus in 90s to the West in search of the lost paradise – June Clever lifestyle. USA women are only beginning to experience this. Don’t let the men to degrade! They need to be motivated to fight for better life and win. Such men will always be most desirable no matter what century.

  19. I had to join a workforce when my youngest child was three because my husband lost his ambition and just cruised through a dead-end job. I worked hard, commuTed 35 miles each was for a great professional opportunity, and eventually earned an MBA. And I have resented every minute of being away from my family. I did not raise my kids the way I planned, and shortcomings show now that they are teenagers. If my husband only tried a little harder! I could have worked less hours or closer to home. He is not a bad man, but he forced me to have the life I hate.

  20. Well so many women that now have their Careers today are so very Selfish, Greedy, and so very Spoiled which has certainly Ruined many marriages already and will continue to do so since they really Don’t need a man at all to Survive which i will Admit. But for many of us Good men out there that Don’t make the kind of money that many of the women today are making which it really does make it very Difficult for many of us that are looking to meet a Good woman t Accept us for who we really are since so many women are also very Money Hungry and will only want the Best and will Never settle for Less.

  21. I am worried about this matter. yes, he says he wouldn’t have any such problem after marriage and if i am more able than him,it is justified that i will get better job than him. But the matter is that some people told me although right now he doesn’t care but it may affect him in future especially if his family or people around him tease him with the matter.

  22. I’m not sure how I feel when you say, “men hate it when women make more” as if the burden of discontent is the man’s problem. Have you considered that women lose respect for their men when they outearn their men? Is it possible that women have become what they have hated in men of yesteryear? Arrogant, selfish, greedy, adulterous? I have never met a man that divorced his wife after she lost her job, but I’ve seen countless marriages abruptly end and women discover that they’re coincidentally “not happy” when men lose their job.

    • I have no problem with my wife earning more. Neither does my wife, we’ve been together since our top ramen college days years ago. It’s a team effort.

      But. My wife’s current female co-workers criticize her for marrying a guy who earns less (yet still over average). I spy a double standard.

  23. Everyone’s missing the boat on this topic. Anyone ever wonder who should be the main earner, if either spouse should??? I know who should (normally) — the wife! I figured out why.

  24. To the nice guy, well you happened to be very blessed to find your woman in college which she just happened to be very old fashioned since they really Don’t Exist anymore today unfortunately. And for the strong independent women out there that make a lot more money than many men do which certainly has destroyed many good marriages already since many of us good men already had this happened to us since these women are the most selfish and greedy people on this earth.

  25. The real problem here is that many women today which i will certainly admit are very independent now and really don’t need a man to survive since they really can make it on their own as well since many of them are really making a very great salary now more than ever before. But these women really think that they’re the greatest thing walking the face of this earth since most of them i would say have no good personality at all, no good manors, are very nasty to us men when we will try to start a normal conversation with the one that will attract us which they will mouth off to us good men as well for no reason at all, they’re so damn selfish, very greedy, and very money hungry as well which makes these type of women very sad and pathetic altogether. They will also like to take advantage of men with money since they will only want the best of all and will never settle for less. They will never be marriage material at all and would make a very horrible wife from the very beginning since they’re very likely to cheat as well since many of us men have been their and done that already especially since many of us were the very committed ones at that time. Most of the women in the past were the very complete opposite of what these women are today since the good old fashioned women years ago really did put these women today to real shame altogether.

  26. Could there be another variable we have not looked at and should start using much more? I feel at least 90 percent of our views of; trust in; care for; etc. of individuals are greatly affected by our collective views of those persons by gender, race, etc. I feel today, the interactions of men and women today are undergoing a great change. First, I feel boys, later men are still very much raised to be tough in different ways. They are given more aggressive treatment by parents, teachers, others, and girls/women from one year of age to make them tough. They are given much less kind, stable, verbal interaction and less mental/emotional support for fear of coddling. Another important element is they are given love and honor only on some condition of some achievement, position, etc. When boys, later men are seen as less in any way, they are given more aggressive and less respectful treatment by parents, teachers, peers, and by society.
    That harmful belief and treatment is slowly but surely causing many boys and men to fall behind in the information age and is maintaining very low esteem in boys and men. Also a very nasty part of the belief boys/men should be strong is the granting of love and honor for men only on condition of achievement or status. When a boy or man appears weak, they are given more ridicule and abuse by parents, teachers, others (girls and women). This is something all boys, later men have experienced and are keenly aware of in their lives. This is why boys and men feel they must appear strong at all times. I feel today boys, later men are still being led by parents, teachers, and others to be tough and are well acquainted with the need never to appear weak in some way.
    I feel this entire treatment is leaving many boys and men with much lower esteem and more feelings of hopelessness. I feel this more harsh treatment has led to fewer men in the workforce and many more women, due to more correct treatment from infancy through adulthood, in more positions of power, control in many situations where boys and men are interacting with those women. I feel this is creating a more collective set of ego damaging interactions with many more women today who perhaps due to the increased feelings of superiority; hatred of males; etc. are providing less kind treatment, even more abrasive treatment toward those many boys and men. The more protection and continued support we receive from infancy also allows much more freedom of expression to give verbal, silent abuse, hollow kindness with impunity. The combined protection/support for us as girls and women; the many more confrontations boys and men experience; the still accepted allowance of more abuse to boys/men who appear weak; and the great freedom of expression allowed us as women creates the perfect storm of kindling start a large fire of confrontations over time for couples where this differential treatment is finally taking its toll on boys and men.
    I feel the media may be also be responsible for creating more open abrasiveness by modeling much of the same power, control and in many instances, more harsh ways to many millions of female viewers. I feel this change in society may be slowly eating away at many even long-term individual relationships between men and women by creating more wariness of women in general. I feel this is an area we definitely need to research more to see if this growing more abrasive treatment of boys and men by many more successful women and the gradual weakening of boys and men to maintain esteem and feelings of self-worth may be slowly raising the threshold for trust and even creating more immediate distrust and wariness of women in their individual relationships. I feel this is possibility that left unchecked, may prove to be very harmful to all relationships, even long formed relationships over time.
    When you add to this their female partner, now earning more in some way, this then sets in place even more wariness of their female partner, having now a more constant reminder of their feelings of inadequacy and even expectance of more abuse, even subtle, words, tones, inflections, and voice stress. Given our very false, genetics models and the very incorrect views of average stress as only some immediate event, this can leave out the many layers of hurt, today’s boys and men are being given due to the harsh treatment boys and men are given to make them tough and at the same time sinking them in the information age. Learning Theory to all mayfieldga@gmail.com

  27. It has already unfortunately. And today there are just too many very selfish, spoiled, and very greedy women everywhere now.

  28. Wealth in a woman’s hand is like beauty on a man’s body. The purpose why a man wants a woman is companionship and children. But just like a couple says our children, so should it say our money, our investments. The problem arises when one party starts sayimg my. Let’s learn from our children… They say our car, our house, our Tv yet they actually own none of it. And we too should know it belongs to God and we are just custodians. My proposed solution: Anything earned by husband or wife belongs to the family and the family should possibly budget for its use together.

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