We’ve beaten this issue to death on this blog, but this latest study out of the University of Chicago does a neat job of summarizing the conundrum faced by women who earn more than men. Sure enough, marriages are threatened by a higher-earning wife.
“The evidence suggests that while men tend to applaud their spouses when they help to bring home the bacon, husbands aren’t always as enthusiastic when women start bringing home the filet mignon…While women prefer men to be intelligent and ambitious, men have these preferences for women only to the point where women threaten to earn more than they do.”
It’s not merely that the man is threatened; it’s that the woman looks down on the husband who earns less.
“What happens when a man marries a woman who has the education and skills to earn more than him? The couple can avoid violating the “man earns more” social norm if the woman works part time or leaves the labor force altogether. The authors found evidence of both choices. But what if the woman stays in the labor force and does earn more than her spouse? How does this affect the marriage? The findings here are striking. In such couples, surveys show, both wife and husband generally report being less happy about the marriage…The divorce rate rose by half, to about 18 percent, for couples in which the wife earned more than the husband.”
So what we have here is clear evidence of one thing at this point in time: marriages where the woman earns more are less stable. But that doesn’t begin to answer WHY.
If you’re inclined to side with women on everything, the answer is clear: men are threatened by smart, strong, successful women. Just look at the study! However, if you have the ability to see things from the other side, you’ll get a much more objective picture.
Are women earning more than their husbands because their husbands are unemployed? Because an unemployed husband is a depressed and emasculated husband and that has to put a strain on a marriage. Then there’s the other explanation for the dissolution of these marriages – it’s not merely that the man is threatened; it’s that the woman looks down on the husband who earns less. It would be hard to be in a marriage where your biggest fan looks down on you, no?
The article acknowledges this as well, saying, “Is there any way to tell whether it’s the wife or the husband who becomes unhappy when the wife earns more? Does he think that she is threatening his manliness, or does she think that he’s a slacker?”
In equilibrium, it’s impossible for you to be happier than your spouse.
That may be impossible to answer, but, it doesn’t really matter. In equilibrium, it’s impossible for you to be happier than your spouse.
If you and your spouse both understand that rule, you’re both likely to be happier – regardless of how much money either of you make.
What I coach women is to a) avoid men who are threatened by your success and b) not look down on men who make less than you or worry about dating a guy who makes as much as you. Because if two people make $300K combined, it doesn’t matter if you make $200K and he makes $100K. Really.
Read the article here and share your comments below.