Who needs a husband, anyway?

Economists find that as women grow more self-reliant, marriages become more about wanting commitment than needing it.

By Jason Notte Jun 18, 2013 7:16AM
Couple arguing (© David Ryle/Riser/Getty Images)American women are the breadwinners in 40% of American households with children, according to the Pew Research Center. A Prudential Financial study finds that 53% of women are the financial anchors and top earners in their families' homes.

Straight men, you'd better hope these women would like to have you as a husband, because they sure don't need you as one.

That's exactly the point that Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, made Monday on The New York Times' Economix blog. With The Brookings Institution noting that marriages overall are waning, Folbre notes that at least part of the explanation stems from the steady disintegration of the stereotypical marriage-hungry American woman.

As self-reliant women have drifted from a Peggy Olson "Mad Men" novelty to a more equitable modern reality, Folbre says, trading in independence for marriage's supposed financial stability has become a less alluring prospect. Unwilling to accept what San Diego State University economist Shoshana Grossbard calls a quasi-wage for their domestic services, women are approaching marriage with an increasingly improving set of terms.

A husband who doesn't get his feelings hurt by the idea of a wife out-earning him tends to be more amenable to an even split of the decision-making and household duties. The Pew Research Center finds that guys are increasingly coming around: Only 28% of all its survey respondents this year agreed that it's "generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife," compared with 40% in 1997.

That's creating a society more like Japan's, in which a Harvard study observed that men who had working mothers were less likely to have hang-ups about working wives and more likely to marry. Pew found that an increasingly college-educated society more accustomed to change is also more likely to hold out for more equitable marriages because college graduates were half as likely as those with only a high school diploma to say it's generally better for a marriage if a husband out-earns a wife.

That's just the state of things. With both men and women generally waiting longer to marry, have children and develop their careers, they're putting off until their 30s what generations who came before generally accomplished in their 20s. With economic conditions not on their side and divorce rates in steep decline, partly as a result of their procrastination, current generations are putting a lot more consideration into their decisions about marriage.

While that's not providing easy answers for Miss USA pageant contestants, it's making it a lot easier for women to hold out for the right marriage or to hold off on marriage altogether.

"As same-sex couples have profoundly demonstrated, the demand for marriage is not based on some natural sexual division of labor but on the desire to give personal commitments public recognition," Folbre says. "Men and women who get this point probably enjoy a distinct advantage in finding a partner."

More on moneyNOW

Tags: Economy
Jun 18, 2013 10:47AM
No one needs a wife or husband, you get married because you want to share your life together. If people are getting married just for money then its a shame.
Jun 18, 2013 9:35AM
It will be interesting to see that if women start making more money  than most men in a marriage and if they get divorced how many of the women will be crying that they have to pay alimony to their ex-husband.  As it stands now guys get taken to the cleaners when they get divorced  with the ex-wife walking away usually with a very generous compensation package because he makes more money.  I bet we will see a lot of bitching when the tables are turned and the women are the breadwinners....we'll see.
Jun 18, 2013 9:03AM
I wouldn't get my feeling hurt if my wife would out-earned me.  I would get a nice new car.
Jun 18, 2013 10:07AM
My whole feeling on this article: meh. This is news? All one has to do is look around. There doesn't need to be a study to tell people this stuff. I've always out-earned my husband. Does he care? Nope. We are both involved in maintaining the house, raising the kids, and nurturing our marriage. Did I have to emasculate him on order to 'create' the perfect partner? No way. I fell in love with a man, not a project. I love him for the things that make him different from me, and his strengths complement my weaknesses. Maybe without economic pressure to marry, women are finally able to be more discerning among the men she dates, and men are able to treat women as people instead of possessions.
Jun 18, 2013 10:22AM
Men have little reason to marry now unless they really want a child, and hope to provide that hopefully ideal environment for their child.  The burden of a failed marriage still rest primarily with the male, and, once you've had a child and married, your quality of life is at the whim of your wife who holds all the cards.  Divorce may be a legal option for all, but financially it is a disaster for most.
Jun 18, 2013 9:35AM

Most people marry for emotional reasons, and then figure out family finances later.  Maybe not the most prudent way to do it, but at least they don't view marriage as a business. 


My wife has out-earned me for about 20 years of our 30 years of marriage.  Originally I earned more, but the social-political climate has benefitted her more than me.   That’s okay – we have a union, not a competition.  And yes, I do try to do at least half of the household chores – but out of respect to her, not because I’m browbeaten to do it.


However, I do admit that this situation has kept us from having kids.  Partially because we don’t have the 1950s stereotype family unit, but mostly because I haven’t felt secure enough in my earning ability to feel that I can afford kids.  Maybe I’m wrong, but we also know several other married couples who have done the same thing.  I agree that women should get equal pay and opportunity for equal effort.  But I have experienced “equality” over-reaction that hurt my career.  A lot of women are getting what they think they want, but shouldn’t then complain if they find that what they get doesn’t live up to fantasy.

Jun 18, 2013 10:31AM
I am married and happy, BUT...
I'd NEVER EVER marry again.

Jun 18, 2013 10:28AM
Great, then maybe it will become the custm for women to pay at the restaurant and the movies!
Jun 18, 2013 10:18AM
The couples in this article and their way of life are headed to extinction because they have few children.  Minorities are taking over this country as their birthrates are much higher.   Fatherless households lead to extremely high costs for society.  The gap between the haves and have nots will widen for generations because of the lack of real men.
Jun 18, 2013 9:30AM
Since people are not adults until age 27, it is wise to delay marriage until later in life.
Jun 18, 2013 10:26AM

My wife currently earns more than me. I was making more the first 5 years, then we spent a couple years flip-flopping, and now she is killing me. I took a new job to avoid relocating the family which resulted in me taking a 10%+ paycut. Meanwhile, my wife's employer rewarded her for staying with a raise and then she got promoted. I'm nearing joke status because of it all but it was a family decision to stay here. I don't regret it at all though and I love my new job.


At the end of the day, it is going to the same checking account. Our family dynamics haven't really changed since the day we married and I made more. We go through periods where I have to work OT or go on business trips and she has to carry the weight or vice versa.


If you are making marriage decisions on money, I am glad I am not your significant other. Kids on the otherhand are a financial decision. Your ability to support those kids and provide them a safe shelter and full belly isn't free. Your desire to be a mommy or daddy is just a selfish desire. Yes, love and time are critically important but so is shelter, food, education, medicine, etc.

Jun 18, 2013 10:34AM
I remember several years back, I saw a bumper sticker that said "save the males" I laughed and then I thought, how true. Remember the years of TV always making men about to be stupid, lazy, unattractive. Homer Simpson, Clevelands, George Jefferson, Archie Bunker, its always the men they make look incompetent or complete smucks. Women aren't happy as they act like they are. And then again, look at them, K. Kardashian and that bunch aren't anything to aspire to. Kids need both parents and animals seem to get it better than we do.
Jun 18, 2013 9:34AM
I like how they try to make this seem like 40% of women make more than their significant others. If you read the study, that is not the truth. Only 22% of women make more than their significant others. I'm all for women making the most money that they can, but don't try to make this something it isn't. 40% of women are the breadwinners in their household.....LOL! What an interesting way to put it.
Jun 18, 2013 9:59AM
I think what is obviously missing in this article is a clear definition of "households" and "families".  The stats and comments made in the article do not reflect the fact that in a very high percentage of households there never was a adult male present. So it goes without saying that adult women raising their kids will be the primary breadwinner. Therefore, I think a lot of this is driven by men not wanting to deal with fickled women in any that resembles a commitment. Could it be men do not need women??

Gee this guy misses the most important thing


You can not collect welfare if you are married.


Most single moms are riding the welfare train taking this country into debt.

Jun 18, 2013 10:19AM
as long as they still want sex, who cares.
Jun 18, 2013 9:24AM

Look, the United States is the the process of making Marriage - well- financially unfeasible for many. 


Many women have learned that the state/federal benefits and tax incentives are on their side not to marry.


Men are systematically being emasculated, so now we here terms about metrosexual......


And face it, with the sexual revolution that is happening - well I like say "You can't turn a hoe into a housewife"

Jun 18, 2013 9:39AM
This has been 30 years in the making. Men have historically, refused to step up to the home plate. We have turned our girls into men and our men into girls. Be more sensitive, we said and they became more sensitive. Dress better, we said and they dressed better. Now, instead of sharing the child care and household duties, they want to stay home and cook and decorate. I have seen this in all economic strata. My sister cannot get near the kitchen, he does all the laundry and food shopping, picking up the kids and doing what was once "women's" work. But he is in and out of work causing great financial stress on the family. My SIL is a wizard in the kitchen but the house is in dire need of repairs, something he is very capable of doing but "doesn't feel "like doing. We all have taken part in this mess. Sadly, I could not even think of how to correct this. Marriage is wonderful if it is with the right partner, sad to think that we, as women, don't need it anymore.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market finished an upbeat week on a mixed note. The S&P 500 shed less than a point, ending the week higher by 1.3%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (+0.1%) cemented a 1.7% advance for the week. High-beta names underperformed, which weighed on the Nasdaq Composite (-0.3%) and the Russell 2000 (-1.3%).

Equity indices displayed strength in the early going with the S&P 500 tagging the 2,019 level during the opening 30 minutes of the action. However, ... More