Trouble for some marriages where wives earn more than husbands

by Grace

As women continue to outpace men in earning college degrees, some marriages in which wives make more money than their husbands are experiencing problems as they adjust to the dynamics of this growing trend.

Children complicate the situation
In marriages with children, 36% of women with higher earnings than their husbands reported this money imbalance had a negative effect.  Meanwhile, only 22% of wives in marriages without children reported this problem.

Two recent articles from the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine  provided insight into some of the tensions in the marriages between “alpha women” and “beta men”.  It appears the income imbalance is not so problematic as long as the husband could still support the family if needed, has the right career, wasn’t forced to stay home or take the less powerful role, and retains a high level of confidence.

Pressure eases up—and perceptions seem to change—when husbands’ salaries are enough to support the family should the wives’ pay evaporate.

This seems right.  In cases where two professionals earn high incomes, a disparity between spouses would probably not create the tension that would exist where a husband earns only a small percentage of his wife’s salary.

Does it work better is the wife if “more testostoronic”?

“Kurt has never been someone who defines himself by his job,” says Jami Floyd, a correspondent with ABC’s 20/20, of her stay-at-home husband, Kurt Flehinger. “Nor does he care much what people think about him. He’s not a Master of the Universe type. I am much more testosteronic. I’m much more driven, much more traditionally male.”…

Some careers for lower-earning men are more acceptable than others.

“I think women earning more than men can be devastating to relationships unless the guy is doing something the wife regards as having cachet, such as academia,” says Betsy, even though she still speaks fondly of her ex-husband and sends him the occasional check….

“An academic person might get a ‘waiver,’ ” he adds. “Or a serious, published writer. A primary-school teacher wouldn’t get a waiver. We may think, What a great thing we have men teaching! However, we’re not giving waivers yet for men teaching primary school.”

It works better if it is a conscious choice, not the result of a failure.  Male or female, a successful person does not want to be married to a “loser”.

But the relationship works well, they report, because Laura’s admiration for Jeff, whom she met when they both worked in finance for a giant West Coast media conglomerate, seems complete. “Jeff was never laid off,” his wife explains. “There’s not that feeling that my husband is a loser. We made a conscious decision—he’s got the creative talent—to play to each other’s strengths.

Young women considering marriage may fail to anticipate how they will feel later on.

It’s not as if these women ever expected their husbands to support them completely—at least a lot of them didn’t. It’s just that it never occurred to them that they might be the ones doing all the heavy lifting. And as hip and open-minded as they like to think they are, they were, after all, raised on the same fairy tale as the rest of us—the one where Prince Charming comes to the rescue of Sleeping Beauty….

Among the reasons these women were originally attracted to their husbands—sex appeal, sense of humor, charisma—earning power may not have been high on the list. But that could be because it was a given. Unfortunately, the other qualities start to fade over time if the husband isn’t adding something tangible to the equation.

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