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Is the Female Breadwinner Still a Futuristic Concept?

Lindsay Olson

Women have fought long and hard to have a somewhat equal footing in the office in terms of salary, position and promotions. And while we've come a long way since 50 years ago in terms of consideration for roles once only held by men, there's still some imbalance in many households.

While men have traditionally been the primary breadwinners in their households, we're seeing a fantastic rise in the number of women who are turning the tables: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40 percent of American women are now earning more than their partners. The numbers are impressive, but the question is: does this situation work?

Citi asked its LinkedIn group, Connect: Professional Women's Network, how members felt about female breadwinners. The answers revealed a dichotomy: many were proud they were the primary earners in their households, and their husbands had no issue with the fact, while others wished they had less of a power struggle due to their earning power.

Society's Role in the Equation

Often, it's not either head of the household that has concerns or judgment; it's often society at large. Because so many people expect the traditional husband-brings-home-the-bacon scenario, they're surprised when it's actually the wife. This can put undue stress on a couple in this situation.

Many men feel emasculated when teased about their wives being the breadwinners. Even if they aren't bothered by the fact themselves, it can create an embarrassing scene when being the center of focus at work or when spending time with friends.

It takes time for society to embrace change, and even though it's been decades since the Women's Liberation Movement, it will likely take a bit longer before no one raises an eyebrow at a father staying home with the kids or making less than his wife. Hey, we can certainly dream that day will come, can't we?

How to Find the Balance

For readers in this particular situation, there are steps you can take to mitigate the stress that can potentially occur. For starters, talk to your partner about working and income expectations. If it's important to one spouse to be able to provide a larger income, or for another to stay at home or work part time, take that into consideration. Think about how that person would feel if the opposite of his or her desires occurred. Could it cause insecurities or arguments? Can those be eliminated by better communication on the topic?

Consider taking turns. Many women step out of the workforce for a time when they have babies, then go back to work after a few months or years. Knowing that your partner will gladly work so you can enjoy the children for a period will make you more likely to do the same in return when the time comes.

Also, forgo traditional situations. More fathers are taking paternity leave than ever, since wanting to bond with a new baby certainly is not exclusive to the mother. Eschew the idea that the male must make the income and focus on who has higher earning power.

If you're a single woman making a great salary, make sure that when you meet Mr. Right, that conversation about income comes up early to avoid disagreements once you're married. Your career should be part of the package.

As a couple, your goal should be to encourage one another in professional endeavors. Keep the conversation going to make sure there isn't any pent-up frustration about the current situation, and be willing to adapt and change the situation as needed to keep your relationship healthy.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.

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