When You Earn More Than Your Spouse

Date

Spring 2024

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In today’s socio-economic landscape, norms are rapidly changing. One notable shift is the increasing number of women outearning their spouses. One study reveals that 40 per cent of women in the U.S. are taking the lead as primary breadwinners in their households.  These dynamic challenges affect traditional gender roles, stirs emotions, and raises questions about the male ego which is one of the most significant challenges that arise when a woman earns more than her spouse.

Historically, men have been conditioned to be the family providers and protectors. As dynamics change, feelings of inadequacy, leading to emotional strain can ruin relationships. In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of earning more than your spouse. 

Extra income, especially in current economic conditions where it’s a necessity and not a choice for the   average family to survive financially, provides a safety net in times of crisis and allows for better planning. A significant advantage of a working spouse is the enhanced financial security and freedom for the family, so what should it matter if it’s the female who happens to bring in more than her spouse?

Some of these benefits include saving for retirement, investing, and achieving long-term financial goals. Higher household income provides opportunities like better education for children, affording a more comfortable lifestyle, and pursuing hobbies or travel. All these advantages contribute to overall family stability and well-being. 

When women out-earn their partners, it challenges traditional gender stereotypes. This shift promotes gender equality and encourages the breakdown of preconceived notions about men having to be the primary breadwinners. 

Factors that have led to the narrowing wage gap are education and career opportunities which have empowered more women to excel in their chosen fields. Women are more likely to pursue higher education and enter traditionally male-dominated professions which pay more. Many couples today prioritize one partner’s career, resulting in income disparities. Women also upgrade their education status after marriage and in some cases are better positioned to secure higher-paying jobs. 

In some families where there are no emotional crises, we often see men going the extra distance by taking on the role of stay-at-home dad, if it makes more financial sense for the family.

For women who excel in their careers, outearning their spouses can be personally fulfilling. It validates their professional achievements and boosts self-esteem, but it may evoke complex disturbance within the relationship. Some men may struggle with feelings of inadequacy, leading to self-esteem issues or even resentment. 

A significant income disparity can lead to imbalances in the power dynamics within a relationship. Clear communication and mutual agreement on responsibilities can help prevent conflicts stemming from these role ambiguities.

Despite societal progress, there is still a degree of social stigma associated with men earning less than their female partners, hence the discussion in this article remains a topic of relevance. This stigma manifests subtlety as in judgment or ridicule from peers, which may affect the relationship.

Talking about finances for the average couple is not always easy and when you make more than your partner, things can get really complicated. In a new relationship, discussing how much money you make is not that important—but as the relationship develops, the topic becomes unavoidable. Once married, it will become necessary to discuss the family budget. What debts will the new relationship inherit? How will the car loans, the student loans, and the credit card balances be paid? How will bank accounts be adjusted for savings and investments? For couples to thrive and survive, finances is one of the biggest areas of contention that must be discussed. 

Strategies to help avoid conflict involve asking for help, allowing him to pay when you go out, creating joint accounts, making important decisions together, and showing mutual love and respect. But life is not perfect. If resentment on either side builds up and cannot be solved, then tough decisions will have to be made. Women should not have to feel guilty for being successful. They should celebrate their success and have partners who are proud of their accomplishments. 

When you earn more than your spouse, open communication, mutual support, and empathy are essential. By understanding the emotions involved, and addressing the potential threat to the male ego, couples can foster healthier relationships and create a more balanced and harmonious future together. Both parties must express their feelings and concerns without judgment. Mutual understanding and support can help alleviate the threat to the male ego, and foster a healthier dynamic between couples.

As society continues to evolve, with same sex partners and gender equality, will these dynamics simply become more commonplace, allowing us to look back and wonder, what was all that fuss all about? // 

Janet Bennett-Cox | Contributing Writer

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