10/18/2013 3:00 PM ET|
When the wife is the breadwinner
Women who bring home the bacon are on the rise. Here's how 3 men feel about not being their family's chief moneymaker.
It’s a fact: Women breadwinners are on the rise.
At a time when the gender wage gap is still alive and well -- full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn -- a recent Pew Research Center study found a striking statistic: 40 percent of American families’ primary breadwinners are mothers, and 37 percent of those breadwinners -- an estimated 5.1 million -- are wives who make more than their husbands.
But all is not well on the women-earning-more front: The same Pew study found that having a female breadwinner was reportedly stirring up trouble in marriages. Why? Well, 50 percent of respondents felt it was harder on a marriage, and 74 percent said it was harder to raise children.
Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist, executive coach, and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” sees many patients who face this situation.
“For a lot of guys, it affects their ego and they start to feel emasculated,” says Alpert, who traces the feelings all the way back to the 1950s. “Society believed men were the breadwinners and women stayed home or did not pursue a career,” he says.
We wondered: Just how do real men in 2013 feel about bringing home less than half of the paycheck?
So we sat down with three men, successful in their own right, to see how an income differential plays out in their relationships, and how Alpert says each couple is faring.
'She wore the pants': The self-esteem factor
Alan, 40, is a successful accountant at a small firm he helped start in Bethesda, Md. Yet his wife, a doctor, still earns more than him. At first, Alan was embarrassed by his wife’s breadwinner status. “It was a male ego thing,” he says. “There was just something about it that made me feel inadequate. I knew it was illogical.”
Three years ago, after nearly six years of marriage, his resentment bubbled over when his uncle asked why they never had children. “I made a rude comment about how my wife was too busy wearing the pants in our relationship to be a mom,” says Alan. “And then instantly regretted it.”
That evening, Alan and his wife discussed their salary differences and the toll it was taking on his self-esteem for the first time since she graduated from medical school. “She helped me gain perspective. There are so many more important things to worry about in life than who makes more money,” he says.
Talking it out also helped Alan to see his wife’s point of view. “The whole time, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding my feelings, but it turns out she knew and was internalizing my resentment into guilt,” says Alan. “That about broke my heart.”
“Now I’m able to see that being grateful to have a job, a roof over my head, and a talented and successful wife who loves me no matter how much I make, is more than enough,” he says. “Plus, it’s really not too shabby having a sugar mama!”
If you’re in this situation: If you’re also feeling embarrassed, you’re not alone. “It’s all too common, and rooted in old-school thinking,” says Alpert, who says the real source of Alan’s issues is his own insecurity. “The conversation that followed provided reassurance to Alan that his wife was fine with things and didn’t think any less of him.”
'I always thought I would make more money'
A year and a half ago, when Adam, 28, decided to go back to school for his MBA, he was earning more than his wife.
As an account executive for an advertising firm in New York City, his wife makes good money, but Adam’s salary as a financial analyst combined with his bonus was still higher.
Luckily, the pair was able to save up enough to cover Adam’s tuition while his wife supported the two of them. “I always thought that I would make more money than my wife,” says Adam. “I know it might sound archaic, but I believe that men are naturally supposed to be providers and that’s what I want to be able to do for my family.”
He isn’t bothered by his wife’s breadwinner status -- for now, that is.
“Honestly, I’m okay with her making more money than me right now, because I see this situation as temporary,” says Adam. “She may be the only one working right now, but I know that the bulk of the savings we’re living off of come from my old salary. And I expect to return to making even more once I graduate.”
If you’re in this situation: While Alpert finds Adam’s view healthy, he still sees room for improvement. “He might benefit from being more open to having a wife who also earns a good salary, or even more,” he says. “Re-evaluating expectations and moving away from that old school or ‘archaic’ thinking might benefit him.”
A change of heart
“My wife often makes more in a day than I make in a month,” says Michael 45, a freelance photographer and father of two, whose wife is a vice president at a financial firm.
These days his income can be sporadic, but it wasn’t always that way. Years ago, Michael was a photo director at a magazine, earning a six-figure salary and flying cross-country weekly for photo shoots.
“I was also a jerk,” he admits. Even though his wife was also working full time,“I expected her to do everything -- cook the dinner, do the laundry, raise our two kids -- since I was never home,” he says. Then, when the recession hit, Michael was laid off.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself at first,” he says. “Then I realized that my daughter played soccer really well, and my son was terrible at the oboe. These were all things that a normal dad should have known, but I was so busy with my job that I didn’t.”
Michael saw his job loss as an opportunity to take back some responsibilities around the house, easing his wife’s stress and growing closer to his kids as a result. “I realized I was missing out on a lot by only focusing on my career,” he says.
Since then, he’s taken freelance assignments as his wife climbed the corporate ladder.
“I like things this way. I like that my wife is being rewarded financially for being intelligent. And I’m alright with her driving the Lexus while I get the minivan,” he says. “If that makes me unmanly, so what? I still get to pursue my passion, only now I get to do it on my own time. And as long as she never acts the way I did when I was the breadwinner, I don’t think I’ll ever mind.”
If you’re in this situation: Getting too caught up in a career isn’t a function of gender, it happens to men and women alike, says Alpert, who applauds Michael for realizing the importance of a balanced life. “So often peoples’ identities become fused with that of their careers. I saw this a lot after the economy crashed in 2008 and still see it today.”
The problem, he says, is that “once the career isn’t there, the person is left aimless and depressed. I remind clients that they’re much more than a highly accomplished professional. They’re also a mother, father, brother, son, daughter and spouse.”
Considering that few couples make exactly the same salary, odds are at some point in your relationship you’ll need to navigate the difference between your incomes -- and all the feelings that come with it.
“Open communication is the key,” says Alpert. He suggests couples list out their expenses and respective earnings to help devise a plan for saving and paying bills. “If salaries are comparable, then splitting it down the middle works,” he says. “In the case of a disparity of salaries, I suggest that each person pay a percentage of their respective salaries. This way people will feel they are contributing in a fair way.”
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Speaking from the point of view as a wife and mother who is the breadwinner, there is a bit of resentment. I work a night time job and another part-time job, taking classes in pursuit of a bachelor's and stay home during the day with my 5 year old. My husband works a mere 30 hours a week and does not see the need to work any more. He often says "I don't need to work more. All of the bills are getting paid." This is true! And it is because I am the one taking on any and all extra work to meet the bills. It would be nice if he shared a little of the load. So I wonder, do some men often willingly take the back seat because the women takes the lead to satisfy their financial needs??
My wife and I have been married 33 years now. I lost my job 2 years ago. My wife had a college education while I held 2 associates degrees. I had always earned more income than my wife. I can't begin to tell you about the long hours she has worked in the retail business over the years to work her way into management. I have worked maybe 2/3rd of the total hours she has worked over our life times yet I made the larger income. We all have choices in life and some lead us down a road that may pay less but is more rewarding from the standpoint of giving back to our communities (for little pay compared to the level of responsibility I might add); Teachers, LPN's, Nurses, etc. We all have a passion in life. Now that my wife is the major bread winner, I have no problem what so ever taking care of family members or others when they need help, volunteering, doing the wash, folding clothes, changing oil on our cars, mowing the lawn, helping take care of grandchildren, The list goes on and on.......The final feelings on this issue are as follows. Those that feel the only way to validate there existence here on earth is to lay on the couch and let our spouses,,,,,,,man or woman carry the load need to examine their true manly hood or women hood and start to look closer at their self and their own self esteem. Finding happiness will never be about yourself but finding happiness in others and doing for others will bring you all a greater feeling of self worth!
I earn more than my husband...by a fair amount, but it's our money (same bank account) and we both contribute, not only financially, but also to at home chores and to raising our sons.
Evenso, he still pays for dinner (out of our joint bank account), and I still thank him for taking me out to dinner.
Two and half years ago, she was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor. Prior to that, her behavior became extremely erratic. She would fly into rages over trivial things. She would forget things constantly. She nearly got stranded while travelling because she kept missing her flight. I knew something was seriously wrong, so I refrained from my plan. My fears were confirmed one night in June of 2011 when she suffered a seizure. One surgery, months of chemo and radiation and she survived and continues to be stable to this day.
I take vows seriously and knew I couldn't in good conscience leave her regardless of how bad our marriage was. (I did plenty wrong too. It's never just one person's fault.) The remarkable thing was that I got her to give me her power of attorney. Since then, I've fixed our finances, stopped a foreclosure on our home and got the loan modified. Our car is paid off in eleven months and I've resolved several bad debts. I will love and care for her for as long as she has left. (the tumor is incurable)
Her illness was unrelated to our earlier problems. She had a long history of bad debt. It was after we married that I discovered her bad attitude about being the breadwinner.
The point of my story is couples should decide before marriage who will control finances, resolve to be okay with whomever is the higher paid earner, never use that status against one another, share a bank account, share the status of bills and other debts and make a mutual plan for their financial future. It can work without causing animosity.
I've owned several businesses over the years. The first undertaking was a vending machine business. The idea was it something we could do together. She never participated in it. At all. I didn't care because we were in it together. It did quite well as it generated enough income to put the down payment on our house. With the economic crash of 2008 it suffered. I could have kept it going and done all right but made the decision to shut it down. I had started a new undertaking that was making a lot more money and simply didn't have the time to keep the vending business going. Though it had saved our butts a number of times it just made economic sense to stop doing it. My new business allowed us to refinance our home at a much lower rate. We had a house fire in Jan 2007. The top/main floor was a complete loss. The business bought all of our personal belongings in 3 months time- clothes, furniture, bedding/linens, bedroom furniture etc. The whole thing. Along with some modifications. I mean how often can you add additional insulation because there are no walls? My wife was working and making good money. She contributed nothing. $0. In March of 2008 the service I was providing was discontinued for another vendor. I went from making good money to zip. I decided to start another business that was not dependent on other people. It was going to take time and money. Both of which I had. I had saved up quite a bit to start my new undertaking. There was specialized knowledge involved so I knew it was going to take time to learn. I was continuing to pay half of our expenses at the same time try to learn as fast as I could. I ran out of time when my savings ran out. It took longer to learn ad to acquire the skills I needed than I had anticipated. If I got a job I would lose everything I had invested in this new undertaking. I was trapped. Keep going and need my wife to foot the bill until I could get it going or walk away and lose everything. When successful she would never have to work again and we could travel. What happened? I kept going and she divorced me. After all my hard work and after everything I put in to our home, and solely mind you, I needed her to help me to help us. And she couldn't do it. She was an RN and made good money.
i have a friend that is like this, but he milks it for all its worth.
he sits home in underoos and does nothing.. he is lazy guy who plays golf.
I think the United States having moved to a service-based economy has changed the nature of the game. Women in many cases are more likely to get hired than men in professional occupations - they tend to be more organized and are natural multi-taskers. They are now more likely to hold an advanced degree than a man. They are also less confrontational and less likely to complain to their employers, statistically speaking.
With the industrial/manufacturing sector in our economy dwindling - you can expect the "women as the breadwinner" trend to continue.
You know it becomes more than WHO makes HOW much. If the couple is serious about surviving the current times as a couple than what is best for the couple becomes the priority. There is no me or I in US.... I buy the food but my retirement does not last until the end of the month, she steps up and buys a whole bunch of groceries when she can. Most of her money would go to the cost of living in the Bay Area and having to do a 60 mile commute. Money is great to have. My bit of advice to those near retirement. BE SURE YOU BILLS ARE PAID. The first thing you will learn about being retired is the you are going to have a lot less income.
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