When She Makes More Money Than He Does
My last serious boyfriend was a brilliant writer, actor and radio voiceover man who made very little money. And what he did make was funneled away to child and spousal support. But he was a lovely human being, both spiritually and physically, so I tried to be okay with the fact that anytime we wanted to go out to dinner for something other than take-out tacos, it was my treat.
But I wasn't okay with it -- and frankly, neither was he. I became resentful after a while that the relationship became a money drain, and he was mortified at not being able to treat me to a nice dinner once in a while. The relationship finally tanked, a victim of our paycheck imbalance and the rigors of modern life. If I'd hung on a few more years, I might have been helped by the wealth of information now available about this bona fide trend; it turns out our situation has become all too common.
Where men still out-earn women, females are catching up with a vengeance. In 1981, only 16 percent of women out-earned their male counterparts. In 2000, it was 22 percent, and these days it's almost 40 percent. Research predicts that by 2030 the average woman will out-earn the average man. Good news, eh? Not always. For some couples, this can be a major problem.
According to one study by the American Sociological Association, when men are economically dependent on their women, they are more likely to cheat. "It may be that men who make less money than their partners are more unhappy and cheat because they are unhappy," says Christin Munsch, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University.
So how are couples adapting? Apparently, not too well.
"A lot has changed in marriage and gender in the last couple of decades, but there's still a sense -- on the part of both men and women -- that men should be the providers," W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project (NMP), tells The Daily Beast. "We haven't come to terms with the fact that we're facing a whole new social moment in which women are doing better than men are."
According to the NMP, husbands with kids in the home are 61 percent less likely to report that they're "very happy" in their marriages when they work fewer hours than their wives.
Among singles, women sometimes compensate for their superior earnings by hiding the truth, fearing it will be off-putting to potential mates. "They think their success will seem too threatening and be held against them," writes Liza Mundy, author of The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family, in a recent Time magazine article. "As a result, some women in the dating pool devise camouflage mechanisms. A young ob-gyn working in Pittsburgh tells men she meets that she 'works at the hospital, taking care of patients,' subtly encouraging the idea that she's a nurse, not a doctor."
But, Mundy notes, things are changing, and couples are adapting. "Research suggests that men will be just as adaptive and realize what an advantage a high-earning partner can be," she writes. "Men are just as willing as women to marry up, and life is now giving them the opportunity to do so. So, women, own up to your accomplishments, buy him a drink, and tell him what you really do."
Here are six tips for coping with paycheck imbalance.
1. Talk and listen to each other.
Paychecks and housework aside, a new study from the University of Virginia shows the factor that contributes most to a happy relationship is whether you and your partner are engaged emotionally.
2. If he's feeling insecure, be his biggest cheerleader.
Nothing works better than strokes when someone is feeling down about their lack of earnings. Tell your man you admire what he's doing. And if he's home with the kids, tell him how you believe it's helping the family as a unit. Support him and his contributions as deeply as you can.
3. Open yours, mine and ours accounts.
This is a good policy for any couple, but especially if there is an earning disparity. Doing this allows you to pay for dinner (or clothes or vacations or anything not considered critical) out of the "ours" account without worrying about whose money it is.
4. Focus on the endgame.
Experts say that no matter who is earning the money, you should still set short-, medium- and long-term goals for your financial future. Dreaming together helps you forget the small stuff like paycheck imbalance.
5. Forget about earnings when taking on duties.
It doesn't matter if one partner is making $22,000 a year and the other is making $220,000. If both of you are working and putting in long hours, you still need to negotiate how to take care of chores in the spare time you have.
6. Seek professional help.
There's no reason money issues should damage a good relationship. If you find yourselves getting into repeated and heated arguments about money, consider an objective counselor to help you sort out the feelings, attitudes and behaviors that you each bring to the situation. A good therapist can help you get back on the same team.