The High-Paid Wives Club

paycheck

I recently received a press release announcing the publication of perky new women's magazine that proudly asked, "Does your husband resent your income?"

My first thought was an indignant, "That old saw again?"

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 26 percent of women made more money than their husbands in 2006. As men have taken the brunt of U.S. layoffs since 2007, that statistic has surely risen.

Still, the articles about men being depressed, insecure or resentful about making less money than their wives keep on coming, as do those proclaiming that couples are more likely to divorce when the wife out-earns the husband. (Just a thought, but the fact that the woman can actually afford to leave might be a contributing factor, too.)

Once I got over my own indignation, though, I began to ponder what impact income might have on my own relationship should I one day I shack up with my boyfriend, a fellow member of Generation X. So I asked how he'd feel about me supporting him someday, say, if he wanted to take some time off work to renovate our future home or go back to graduate school. Or if he lost his job.

"I would love to be taken care of," he said. "But then how could I look my grandma in the eye? I may be a post-sexual-revolution guy, but deep down I'd still worry about being judged."

In other words, for some, old gender roles die hard.

Because my guy and I don't share a roof, checking account or marriage license, I conducted my own informal poll of couples who do. Although there were a handful of throwbacks who couldn't fathom a wife out-earning her husband, most said it was a non-issue.

"It's a whole new world out there and dads that stay at home are not perceived as losers," said Paul, 42, from the San Francisco Bay Area, who left a travel-intensive career as a talent agent and film producer to care for his 6-month-old son while his wife Naomi, an employment attorney, works full time.

'I'm Not the Hunter-Gatherer Guy'

"I'm not insecure about it," Paul said. "I'm not the hunter-gatherer guy who's like, 'I have to earn more than my wife.'"

Attitudes about traditional gender roles are changing so rapidly -- especially given the massive job losses men have endured this recession -- that trying to collect data on what men and women think about the subject is chasing a moving target, said Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families.

"In 1977, women were much more likely to report work-family conflict than men were," said Coontz, who's written five books on gender roles and families, including "Marriage: A History."

"Today it's men that are, because now they feel like they should be spending more time at home with their kids," she said.

Dan, 38, from Sammamish, Wash., is part of this sea change.

He never felt threatened by the fact that his wife Kim, also 38, made more than double his salary. And two years ago, when the couple realized that Dan's take-home pay amounted to little more than the annual day-care costs for their two kids, now ages 4 and 7, Dan agreed to leave his job as a junior high school band teacher.

"I love getting to play with kid toys and watching cartoons in my jammies," Dan said of his full-time dad duties.

But, he added, "I do feel a little guilty when [Kim] is under a lot of stress at work. But we talk about it a lot and she knows that if she ever feels like she has had enough, we will find a way to make a change."

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