Do You Need a Man to Make More Money Than You? If So, Why?

Do You Need a Man to Make More Money Than You

My amazing intern forwarded me an article last week that she read on CNN with some not-so-surprising new statistics.

In 2007, 22% of couples showed the woman making more money than the man. That’s up from 4% in 1970.

In this recession, 4.7 million men lost their jobs, compared with 2 million women, thus leaving more women to be the primary breadwinners.

The article points out what I’ve observed previously: the issue these days isn’t so much that the male schoolteacher is “intimidated” by the high-paid female advertising executive (there are some, but you don’t want them anyway), but rather that the high-paid ad exec refuses to date the schoolteacher.

But why is this the case in 2010?

Isn’t the point of being independently wealthy so that you can do what you want, when you want?

Doesn’t the value of being self-sufficient come in not having to worry about someone supporting you?

If you’re a woman who is in the top 10% of earners – and you INSIST that your man out earn you – you’ve now eliminated 90% of the dating population.

For a self-sufficient, high-earning man, a woman’s earning potential carries very little weight. Why? Because we have always been taught that nobody is going to pay our way in life. This gives men the freedom to choose a partner based on what matters most – character, kindness, fun, humor, compatibility – as opposed to mere earning potential. That’s the FREEDOM of making more money.

So why do women treat being high-earners like it’s a curse? “If I make $200,000, then he has to make AT LEAST $200,000.”

I’ve never heard a man say the same thing.

Face it: if you’re a woman who is in the top 10% of earners – and you INSIST that your man out earn you – you’ve now eliminated 90% of the dating population. And that’s before you’ve considered kindness, compatibility, attraction, values, height, weight, age, humor, children, etc. Doesn’t that sound like a self-defeating edict? I’ll say. Which is – in my estimation – one of the main reasons it’s easier for men to find love. We’re not looking at you to support us because we can support ourselves, so we’re free to choose whomever we want.

The question remains: if you can support yourself as well as any man can support himself, what DIFFERENCE does it make what he earns? Why is your boyfriend, the guitarist, “bad husband potential” when his girlfriend, the painter, is just “his girlfriend?” Haven’t we evolved enough to true equality that it doesn’t matter who makes more as long as the couple as a unit is doing okay? Or are women stuck on the old world order where men provided and women took care of the home – even though most $200,000 earning women don’t want to be homemakers? Do women want it both ways? Do you want the option of quitting work and maintaining your high lifestyle, when men don’t have this option? If so, is this the rare double-standard that works in favor of women?

Frankly, I think that successful women holding out for more successful men is as counterproductive as wealthy men doing the same thing – which, as you might have notice, they don’t.

I would love your thoughts on whether women should continue to hold out for men who make more – with these two caveats:

1) Please don’t accuse me of being sexist for making the observation that most women want a man to outearn them. It’s an observation, not a judgment.

2) Please don’t accuse me of encouraging women to date deadbeat slackers with no money, no ambition and tons of credit card debt. It’s not all or nothing. Just as I say you can compromise on chemistry – from a 10 to a 7 – I’m simply wondering aloud why a woman with her own money can’t date a man who makes $45K, the exact same way a man with his own money can date a woman who makes $45K.

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  1. 21

    Evan, I did not mean that your philosophy is that men shouldn’t compromise on looks, just that you tell us that most men are not doing that (stating the facts, not rationalizing them). Just like women should be less concerned with height, money, status, etc. You did not ask if women want men who make more money, but why. We are relating our own personal experiences and reasons for that. I am okay with dating a man who makes less as long as I do not have to support him and can maintain a reasonable middle income lifestyle that I have on my own (while being a single mother of three).
    I also have found that most of the men I meet that make significantly less than I do did not go to college or even trade school. While some men are able to make a good living without it, most I meet are barely scraping by and in their 30’s and 40’s with no plans to improve their career. In this economy especially, it is scary to date someone who is so easily replaceable in their job with no other skills to fall back on. I also seem to have less in common with them and a harder time with conversation than men who have gone to at least some college. I managed to finish my Bachelors as a single mother, it is hard to truly respect a 40-year-old who “mows lawns” in the summer and “takes odd jobs” in the winter (yes I recently went on a first date with this guy). It may make me a snob, but ambition/pride are important to me.

  2. 22

    1) Re: Lynn’s “even if the woman were to feel generous” – yes, that’s how it is. You often say about this or that aspect of men’s behavior, Evan, that this isn’t perhaps how it should be, but this is how it  is. And this is how it is.
    2) I had the following thought on the whole paying for dates thing some time ago: as it is, the entire courtship ritual has been reduced to the very minimum. Even if paying somebody else’s way didn’t leave me broke (as it would in my current situation), I simply wouldn’t feel desirable if I had to do it.
    That’s how I feel at the moment. Perhaps I’ll develop a different philosophy as life goes on and I am truly on my feet.

  3. 23

    Robyn, I agree. A man who makes much more than I do does not necessarily want to spend it on a woman. Oddly, the men who make about the same as I do or less are often more generous. The men with a lot of money are so afraid of “gold-diggers” that it seems they are constantly testing and holding back for fear of being used.

    Also, are constantly reading that our job in the beginning of dating is to graciously receive and be thankful. How do we do that if we are paying for all the dates? I think the woman does end up then taking on the masculine role, something I am personally not comfortable doing.

  4. 24

    You are right that one of the reasons both men and women are at a standstill when it comes to finding love is that they won’t compromise either on looks or income. It’s just that it feels so unfair that most men won’t compromise on age or looks, so therefore it boils down to women having to make the compromises.   I’m in my late 30’s and just went on a date with a man who made some off handed comment about how he was open to dating women of all ages, older, younger, but when it comes to settling down, then age will matter. The guy is almost 40.   He lives with his mother and earns less than I do.   He then asked me my age and was surprised when I told him because he thought I was younger. Then the whole vibe of the date changed and he seemed less interested.   He never did call post date. Anyways, the point is that I if I refuse to date him because he has low earning potential, then I’m shallow. If he refuses to date me because I am too old, then most people will think it’s just normal that a man should feel that way.

    1. 24.1

      Jane, completely agree about it being an uncomfortable, unworkable situation for all of us, but especially unfair to women. Also, we weren’t in the workforce to the extent we are today, and so now we get it from all sides. I make more yearly income than 50% of the US population, and I work with men who are sometimes incredibly territorial and threatened by their female counterparts. Then in the dating world, I find men who are unhappy with their jobs or their financial standing, men who can’t define what makes them feel manly anymore, men that feel women have invaded their territory, men with undefined gender roles, men who need younger prettier mates to feel manly and look successful, men who are jealous of successful women etc. And there is nobody meaner than an insecure man. It’s a rock and a hard place for successful middle aged women. But what am I supposed to do– date women? It’s tempting…

    2. 24.2

      Jane- just look at where his philosophy has gotten him this far- the only woman who he lives with, at 40, is his MOTHER. Most guys living at home still at that age are bad news. A date with a guy with that opinion combined with those circumstances would’ve cooled down very quickly for me too- I need higher quality   men than that.  (And how much he earns is no part of this- I am all for the opinion that circumstances in life shift- today you earn more, tomorrow your partner earn more- so? Work as a team 🙂   )

  5. 25

    I just finished reading your advertorial for Why He Disappeared and I am   wondering how to reconcile your advice for women to be receptive and allow men to be giving with your advice for women to not insist on men who make more money than they do.   In our society, the way “giving” often manifests itself is through spending money — on dinner, plays, theatre, movies, etc.   If a woman makes a lot more than a guy, it’s unlikely that he will be able to spend on the things that she likes…which will make him feel bad and her frustrated.      So, if the guy can’t give in that traditional manner, what can he do to maintain what you call the masculine giving energy and what can she do to maintain the feminine receiving energy?
    I do think that women have been socialized to want men to pay for everything and I think a lot of men and women don’t challenge that norm very much.    I happen to be one of those women who makes a lot more than my boyfriend, and I basically pay for all of our recreational/entertainment activities.   When we go to dinner, the wait staff — male and female alike– always put the bill in front of him. People just expect that the he is going to pay for whatever we do.    One time a waiter even commented to him ” “Hey, aren’t you lucky to have the lovely lady pay for dinner.”   My boyfriend just grinned and said, “Indeed I am.”
    The interesting thing is that at first my boyfriend did feel uncomfortable with me paying for everything, but now he’s fine with it because he knows that I don’t think less of him as a man or make him feel inadequate.    While I don’t think less of him as a man, every now and then I do feel that if I were really hot, I would not have had to “settle” for a guy who is financially challenged.      At the same time, I really don’t feel comfortable when the guy pays for everything.

  6. 26

    Okay, seriously, I am curious now: who ARE these people who hold out for only 10’s on the attractiveness scale? How many men truly think that they have a chance with the Charlize Therons of the world? And I am sure that for women an analogous percentage would be even lower.
    From what I generally observe, MOST people are certainly much more realistic than that.

  7. 27

    Part of it is cultural.   My dad always paid for everything, never letting my mom pay for anything.   It was a point of personal pride for him (and also part of his cultural background).   Most guys I’ve dated pay for everything.   A couple have let me pick up a tab here and there, but they’ve been in the minority.
    My fiance is a teacher, so you can see where I fall in the spectrum of women on this issue.   And it’s important to him that he pays for when we got out.   I think I’ve paid for things maybe 5x over the last year and a half.   The difference between dating a teacher and a very financially successful man is the type of restaurant we go to.   Instead of going to the city’s most exclusive restaurants on a very regular basis we go to more affordable neighborhood restaurants.   I think in one of the “who pays for the first date” threads the basic consensus was that the guy should pay, and the woman should be happy with what was provided for her.

  8. 28

    “For a self-sufficient, high-earning man, a woman’s earning potential carries very little weight. Why? Because we have always been taught that nobody is going to pay our way in life. This gives men the freedom to choose a partner based on what matters most — character, kindness, fun, humor, compatibility — as opposed to mere earning potential. That’s the FREEDOM of making more money.”

    I also see that many men in this category feel that choosing a partner is NOT based on “character, kindness, fun, humor, compatibility”, as much as it is on choosing a partner who is young and very attractive.  That’s the FREEDOM of making more money.  

    1. 28.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I’m seeing a few responses that are getting frustrated at men (Ruby, Jane, Juju). I acknowledge your frustrations and think they’re very real and very fair. But as you know – and have pointed out – this blog isn’t about changing men; this blog is about looking at yourself and asking if there’s something that YOU could do differently. Not because men are flawless (they’re not), but because you can’t change them.

      So to counter my query with: “But MEN discriminate against women based on age and weight, therefore I SHOULD BE ALLOWED to discriminate against men based on money”…

      …misses the point.

      If you make six figures, you CAN pass up every man who makes less than you do, however I believe that this behavior is a) counterproductive, because the more you make, the fewer men are available. And b) somewhat anachronistic and hypocritical, for reasons I’ve already articulated.

      Instead of retorting with ways that men do you wrong, or reasons that men are uncomfortable with you making more (which are real, too), let’s focus on a not-so-hypothetical hypothetical:

      Evan makes $60,000 running His girlfriend is a Vice-President of a company and makes $200,000 a year. Evan is perfectly comfortable with the fact that he makes less. He wants to be generous and chivalrous, but it’s really difficult when his girlfriend likes 5-star hotels in Cabo and frequent dinners out, which are beyond his means. He does his best to carry his share and ends up alternating checks and paying for half of everything. Most women I’ve talked to seem to think this is a fair arrangement, because he’s a man, and that’s what men do.

      Let’s flip the script over. Evan makes $200,000 and his serious girlfriend makes $60,000. If he allows her to alternate checks to the point where she’s paying a disproportionate share of her income – he’s labeled a cheap and selfish bastard who should not let her lift a finger, given their income disparities.

      It seems to me that if we’re being fair and objective, people should pay according to their MEANS not their GENDER. How can presumed feminists who believe in full equality justify a man paying for you when you make significantly more?

      Understand, I’m not blaming you for finding men with money more attractive; I’m simply pointing out this dichotomy – and how it actually harms the women who buy into it.

      1. 28.1.1
        It's you

        There’s a flaw in your example, Evan. In the  scenario of the higher earning man, those criticizing him for being cheap are not the ones  he’s dating  (unless his girlfriend  is a kindergarten teacher who just feels she has to split the check). In the scenario of higher earning woman, the man she’s dating is the one who has problem with the arrangement.

        Therein lies the problem. When you criticize women for wanting to date  men who earn more than them, you ignore that  most men aren’t exactly  crazy about being the one in the relationship who makes less money.

        1. Evan Marc Katz

          It’s a cycle, It’s You. The reason that men are insecure about making less money is often because she looks down on him, criticizes him, nags him and disrespects him for making less money. If there were no ramifications to men making less money, they wouldn’t be as insecure, would they?

  9. 29

    Addendum to my #27: I will pay for things like opera and symphony tickets.   I’m usually the one who’s interested in these events and will find out about them, and he humors me by accompanying me.   I’d really feel badly if he to pay for it too!

  10. 30

    I have to agree with you.   I really don’t think most men hold out for 10’s and I don’t think most women hold out for millionaires.   Perhaps Evan’s clients do, but I just don’t know how representative they are of the average woman or man who doesn’t live in LA or New York.   If what I read on this blog were the reality, only beautiful, rich, and fit people are getting together.   i live in small town/small city America, and the reality that I see everyday is average men happily coupled with average women.   And average includes lots of men under 6 feet and lots of women size 12 and over and lots of normal looking people — they won’t turn your head, but they won’t make you gag either.

  11. 31

    Sometimes I feel that  some people  discusses each “criteria” in isolation. A lot of times things aren’t so simple.

    If I meet a guy and he makes less than me, no big deal….IF he is a hardworking man, with appropriate levels of ambition, doing what he loves and is responsible to contribute to the makings of “us”. Then that’s fine. That’s fantastic!

    If I meet a guy who is not all that and/or has low self esteem being with me who earns more than him (yes, there still are such men around)…then no can do. I don’t want money or pride to be an issue in the relationship.

    As I go along in my career, I begin to accept that not many guys my age or the age range I’m looking for would be able to match my income.

  12. 32

    Ah, but life isn’t fair, Evan. 🙂 Truthfully, my feeling on the who pays thing is that while I greatly appreciate a man paying for a date, I really don’t expect him to. I prefer to pay my own way. But I also don’t want to feel like I am stepping on a man’s ego or desire either. I recently offered to go dutch and I think the man was offended. It’s not just the women who may feel a man should always pays. I think the men typically feel this way, too.

    1. 32.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Diana, I’m not talking about who pays for the first date. Old-school chivalry is an extremely nice gesture and a no-brainer for most men in the early phases of courtship. So absolutely let him court you for a few dates before you generously offer to reciprocate. That acknowledges his desire to earn your trust and value you and doesn’t emasculate him. I’m talking about when he’s already GOT you. You’re a couple.

      And if you’re a couple and you significantly outearn him, it seems pretty silly for him to be paying for half of everything due to rules that were created 100 years ago.

  13. 33

    I don’t know, I certainly didn’t feel frustrated, I only said, accept it, this is the way it is. And this thinking is not likely to change any time soon. It’s only for the past 25 years or so (if even that) that women have been truly financially independent – what is 25 years compared to the span of the entire human history? Evolution doesn’t happen that quickly. I am actually very surprised (and perturbed) when I encounter men who do place a disproportionate significance on the woman’s income, since it just feels so unbecoming of a man.

    1. 33.1
      a girl from Romania

      I think the idea behind all this is that men and women’s attitudes and expectations towards relationships are different. The real issue is if it’s working out for   high-earning women to have   the expectation that the man earns more because in many cases it seems it doesn’t and that’s because of a simple matter of demand and supply. Reality looks like this:   men seem to be less interested (than women- but still interested up to a point) on how much money a woman earns; they value being young, pretty, feminine and easy-to-live-with more than her social status or her earning capacity. Actually for many men to have a significantly younger partner (10-15 -20 years younger) can boost their social status. In a way this makes sense since once they will have kids, most probably the woman will stay home with the children for a couple of years to raise them and her earning potential will decrease.  In contrast, judging from the comments here, many women seem to want a partner that is either their equal or better than them (not just in earning potential, but social status, height, built, intelligence etc.).  What I’m trying to say is that there is a disconnect between what higher earning women are offering to the men they see as their potential partners and what these men actually want. In many cases to have a 200.000 $ salary a year you need to have been working a couple of years in the industry; you are most probably in your middle thirties; but men in their middle thirties who earn that much can actually “get” women in their 20s who are younger and care free because of less demanding jobs (and thus fit their criteria), and since they’re not interested in how much they earn, but these women are, they actually have a shot at them as opposed to a 30 something year old man who earns just 45 k a year.   In the world we live in  20 something low-earning women date 30 something men with high salaries and they also marry them. Honestly, I would do the same if I were a man (and also a woman). It is true that high earning women in their 30s dress nicely, keep fit, but …. many of them have such an attitude that it drives you insane.  It really just shows that some women forget to ask men what they want. I also think women add other criteria that make it difficult to find a partner: that he be her age or just a couple of years older, look great, good in bed etc..   The reason I say this is that if for women earning capacity means so much and for men age, than maybe the solution is to find an older man that earns the same or more. Otherwise, high-earning women in their middle and late 30s    might just end up single many, many years from now and even if they like it or not, they might just end up conceiving and raising kids alone, or possibly even adopting   (a trend that I already see appearing not just in the USA, but in Romania as well). Either this, or you accept a man that maybe earns less than you, is not 9 or 10 in the looks department, but 6 or 7 etc. In reality, almost all men of all ages would prefer a younger as possible wife,  and I think this is a truth many high earning women just don’t want to face.

  14. 34

    Shay, you make a great point that it’s usually the sum total of a person’s qualities good and bad that factor into who we determine is a good partner. LIke you said most women who saw a man with a lower salary but had ambition to better his life, and had other qualities she was looking for, would be quite happy. A man at 40 still living at home and has no aspirations for growth or change isn’t such a compatiable partner.

  15. 35

    Hmm, this is definitely not the reality for me. I’ve never even dated someone who makes more than me, and I’ve always been fine with picking up the checks, as long as it was my idea to go out. Ideally I’d want a partner to pull his own weight, but not necessarily support me. I don’t think I know any women who expect their boyfriends to make more, so long as they are not deadbeats.
    I do know 3 married couples where the woman are the breadwinners. In 2 of those couples the men are stay at home dads, not making any income at all. In the 3rd couple the woman has a career while the husband is a part time waiter. She pays the entire rent of their house but when they go out he always picks up the checks..I guess so she can feel like hes taking care of her somewhat. It seems to work for them.

  16. 36

    It doesn’t sound to me as if the majority of responders on this blog are making huge incomes, and in fact, one person said that as a high-earner, she routinely pays for her lower-earning boyfriend.  
    I’m not expressing frustration at men so much as I am saying that both genders can be shallow and superficial. Also, EMK’s post is about high-earning women not wanting to date lower-earning men, and I am questioning the validity of this belief. Then again, I’m not all that concerned about what wealthy women choose to do as far as dating goes anyway.

  17. 37

    The only reason for a woman to want her man to have a higher salary than hers is because she’s looking for a man to take care of her.    In other words, she’s willing to put herself in a childlike situation where she is dependent upon another adult to make sure her financial needs are met.   In my opinion, women with that mentality are not only foolish but they contribute to the myth that women — as a whole —  are gold-diggers and/or cannot support themselves.

    Evan, men aren’t the only ones who’ve been brought up to  expect that their financial well-being is their own responsibility.    Fortunately, that’s how I was raised; but even if I wasn’t I think I would have quickly figured out that true freedom comes from knowledge that at any given time I can leave a man who mistreats and disrespects me  with the ability to support myself and move on.   I’ve  always been  at least an equal earning partner in any long-term relationship, including marriage with children, and I can say the same for most women I know.    

    On the other hand, I know plenty of men who would have no qualms whatsoever  settling right in with a  woman who makes more than they do — even substantially more.   I’ve yet to meet any many who, after learning my income, had any kind of problem with it being more than his.    In fact,  when they find out how much I make,  and the retirement options I’ve built for myself over the years, their eyes  sometimes light right up, as if to say “Hallelujah, here’s my ticket to  a comfy retirement.”    

    On yet another hand, I’ve  met men who have a  serious problem , which they articulate clearly and early in the relationship, if they learn  my income or investments are not  at least equal to theirs.    Many men carry what they feel are “scars” from being taken to the cleaners by a bitter ex-wife (or two), and they  are very unwilling to let go of that bitterness or control over whatever financial holdings they still have.   While I can understand that kind of mistrust,  I find that guardedness a real turn off.       In other words, money is complicated in relationships… regardless of gender.

  18. 38

    To answer Evan’s question in #8, I believe it’s sociology. Biologically males may have been taller, faster, stronger, but I don’t see early human females sitting back and starving to death if their male (if they had one) didn’t bring home the wild boar. It seems much more likely everyone was out hunting and gathering whatever they could to survive. Later gardening and  trading surplus food, goods, and skills. In fact, it’s only been within the last century or so that BOTH genders have become so removed from basic survival skill sets.

    If a woman has the financial resources to support herself in the style she enjoys, why would she need a man who makes more money than she? It’s not for survival. Joe in #15 hit on one of the advantages of partnership: dual income can provide a lifestyle that is above what one could provide for themselves, while at the same time lowering the  individual’s costs of maintaining a home.

    I can see the point of not necessarily wanting to pay more than you would for yourself when it comes to things like expensive dinners, or vacations and you don’thave to…you can do these things on your own. But it’s not as much fun as having a companion to go with you  is it? This is something most men realize and why they  accept the fact of paying for dates.   It’s what works effectively, it’s not biology.

    If you are a high earner and you want an equally high earner there is nothing wrong with that… as long as you understand you are by your own choice limiting your dating pool.

  19. 39

    As a single guy, I can find much in this thread to feel defensive about and jump right on in with my own rants.
    The bottom line is people have a right to want what they want.
    If they don’t want me that only means that I move on to someone else.
    If they “price themselves out of the market” with their lists of must haves, some of which are just not rare, but contradictory then that is their life, their business.   They just end up alone.

  20. 40

    Hi Evan,
    Love your blog etc etc. Thanks for keeping it real and being (painfully) honest. Anyway I was just thinking about this issue myself. Went out with fellow grad student a bunch of times who seems sweet and super smart and a total social science dork, just like me 🙂 But well he hasn’t offered to pay for me and that kinda got to me. Then I thought we make the same amount of (very little) money and live on such teensy budgets, I should be more chill. Anyway we’ll see how it goes and it’s all pretty low stakes as long as people are dating and living independently. Once two people decide to make a home together, I think the equation changes a little bit.
    I think it changes because of expectations surrounding men and women’s gender roles in marriage,  specifically the home-making and child-rearing stuff. Sure if a woman makes enough money it’s more than acceptable for her to outsource her housework. I don’t know if that’s as true for childcare. Speaking for myself at least, I would want to marry a guy who if the need arises (which it will) can make enough for me and the kid(s) I hope to have. I want to be a stay at home mom for a little while when I have kids (a year or two minimum) and during this period I would want the guy I’m with to be the primary breadwinner. Sure I want a career doing something I love and am good at, but I can’t be the primary caregiver for the children AND be an equal breadwinner at the same time. Whereas women’s roles have changed enough since the ’50s so that now it’s customary for them to be full participants in the workforce, this is work they’re expected to do IN ADDITION TO, not INSTEAD of, all the other stuff like being a good mom/ wife/ homemaker.

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