When Wives Outearn Husbands

By Kylis, M. R. | Working Mother, August/September 2009 | Go to article overview

When Wives Outearn Husbands


Kylis, M. R., Working Mother


As more working moms bring home fatter paychecks than their partners, couples are discovering an uneasy shift in traditional roles. Here, tips to protect your marriage while you navigate this new path. BY M.R. KYLIS

When Gina Weaver's son, Sam, was born, she and her husband, Eric, decided that he'd wait to return to work until their child started school full-time. Seven years later, Gina continues to support her family on her social worker's salary. "Our original plan was that my husband would return to work, but that hasn't happened, mostly because he hasn't seemed too interested. It's also because our son has Asperger syndrome, and we don't feel he could handle afterschool care," Gina says.

For a host of reasons, an increasing number of working moms today, like Gina, are outearning their spouses in fact, many are also the family's sole breadwinner. In 1987, just under one fifth of wives earned more than their husbands, compared with about one fourth in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But if you compare wives to all husbands, including those who don't work, about one third of wives earned more than their husbands in 2006. And for the first time in history, in terms of numbers, women are closing in on men in the workforce. This is because in the current recession, a higher percentage of men are out of work than women. "We're seeing an upward trend in women who earn more than their husbands," says Veronica Tichenor, an assistant professor of sociology at SUNY Institute of Technology. "All evidence suggests the current economic downturn will accelerate that trend."

For Gina, "it's a lot of pressure," she says. "It's not an issue in our relationship, but I do find it frustrating that my husband doesn't do more at home, chore- and food-wise." Studies are now showing what Gina and many other working moms know to be true: Employed women typically devote much more time to child care and housework than employed men do. According to recent data from the government's American Time Use Survey, analyzed by economists Alan B. Krueger and Andreas Mueller, when women are looking for a job, they spend twice as much time taking care of their children each day as employed women do. By contrast, unemployed men's childcare duties are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they tend to spend more time sleeping and watching TV.

The bottom line for working mothers? More stress. "You have to take care of yourself," says Theresa Krueg, a senior financial advisor and vice president of WealthTrust-Arizona in Chandler, AZ. "We are a never-ending faucet to support everyone else."

Because of the many challenges in our path, we asked experts for advice on how families can better manage their evolving roles and keep the peace at home.

Self-worth doesn't equal salary

If couples buy into the idea that pay equals status, they're in trouble, says Margaret Heffernan, author of The Naked Truth: A Working Woman's Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters. "A paycheck tells you nothing about a person, only about the industry they work in," she says. "Anyone who believes their salary equals their worth is wrongheaded."

Appreciate their contribution

It can be difficult for a husband to watch his wife go to work while he stays home, says Tichenor: "He can feel like he's not a real man." Working women need to remind their husbands who are unemployed that they value all that the men do around the house and the emotional care they give the family, she says.

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