When my husband and I wed in 2012, we knowingly exposed our marriage to potential complexities based simply on the fact that I brought home a bigger paycheck. I had recently started researching my new book, "When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women," and discovered some sobering statistics unique to relationships with this increasingly common financial dynamic. Today, 24% of wives earn more than their husbands, four times greater than in the 1960s, according to Pew.
I didn't discover all bad news, but the heap of negative data was evidence enough that we were desperate for a much better, far more creative roadmap to support these modern relationships (mine included). Before we can wholly celebrate women’s financial and professional ascent, we need to overcome the potential challenges she and her partner may face in their relationship when it comes to intimacy, finances, child rearing and “making it all work.”
When she makes more marriage difficulties jump and divorce rates rise by 50%. Economists at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the National University of Singapore found that traditional views of gender identity, particularly the perception that it’s a man’s job to make more money than his wife, affect whether or not women marry, whom they marry, how much they decide to work, and even whether couples choose to stay married.
Cheating, too, becomes a greater problem. A 2010 Cornell University study examined 18- to 28-year-old married couples and couples living together for more than a year. Men who were completely dependent on their female partner’s salary were five times more likely to cheat than men who made an equal amount of money.
His ego is bruised
Not all men, but some will begin to question their masculinity when he makes less. A study from the University of Florida and the University of Virginia discovered that a man’s self-esteem and ego take a hit when his female partner prospers, and it can negatively impact his outlook on their relationship.
What gives? The study suggests that “having a partner who experiences a success might hurt men’s implicit self-esteem because ambition and success are qualities that are generally important to women when selecting a mate.”
A separate body of research by Lamar Pierce, professor of strategy at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis, found that many men still believe it’s important for them to earn more than their wives.
In his study, published in early 2013, Pierce found that in relationships where women make a little bit more than their partners, men are about 10% more likely to require prescription pills to combat erectile dysfunction (ED), insomnia, and anxiety.
Although it’s difficult to prove causation between a nontraditional income disparity and a man’s need for ED drugs, Pierce noted a parallel between increased usage of ED medication and the increasing gap between the wages of breadwinning wives and their husbands. The greater the income imbalance, the greater the problems were with ED and reliance on drugs to remedy it.
Increased pressure to 'make it all work'
My own academic survey of over 1,000 women — half of them breadwinners — found that when she makes more than her parner, she feels more pressure to stay on top of the finances, advance in her career, maintain her income stream and deal with disapproving or judgmental family and friends. She also reports less marital satisfaction with how chores are managed and the couple’s family planning status.
She does more housework
Somewhat surprisingly, women who earn more than their men take on a larger share of household work and childcare. Researchers believe that gender identity considerations may lead a woman who seems threatening to her husband because she earns more to do a larger share of chores. Essentially, higher-earning women try to assuage their partner's dented sense of worth by reverting to more traditional male-female roles. In one study some women who are the main breadwinner report doing at least two-thirds of the housework.
She’s more likely to quit her job
Economists found that wives with a better education and stronger earning potential than their husbands were less likely to work. Sounds strange, right? Not, perhaps, when you consider it in tandem with the fact that women are more likely to stay out of the workforce if there is a big risk that they'll make more than their husbands. After all, if a woman senses her income level can ruin her relationship, and she can afford to work less thanks to her partner’s income, then why not?
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance expert and author of "When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women" (Hudson Street Press, May 1). Pre-order a copy of her book and receive numerous gifts and the chance to win freebies from TaskRabbit, Evernote and Stella & Dot. You can even enter to win a backstage pass to the NBC Today Show! Just click here.