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."

Equality: Are We There Yet?

Of course, as an overall society, we're still far from one big, happy, post-gender-role family.

As Paul's wife Naomi points out, some parenting double standards are alive and well.

"When Paul's out with the baby at the gym or a cafe, he gets a lot more attention than a mom," said Naomi, who is 38. "It's like a magnet, or a puppy. But hello, moms do that all the time and get no recognition."

For Dan's wife Kim, a manager at a high-tech firm, though, the double standards have been self-imposed.

Division of Housework Important to Marital Happiness

"I just now stopped apologizing for working late," Kim said, noting that Dan, who sometimes had to work evenings as a band teacher, never felt the need to apologize for it. "It took Dan saying 'That's part of your job' before I stopped."

Then there's every couple's favorite topic: housework.

"Research shows that one of the best predictors of a wife's satisfaction in marriage is how she perceives the division of labor in the household," Coontz said.

Simply put, the more housework a husband does, the more sexually attracted to him his wife will be. Likewise, Coontz said, studies show that men tend to be happier in their marriage when they have more sex.

"We have a win-win situation here," Coontz advised men. "Do more housework and you'll both be happier."

That was Jocelyn's thinking when she agreed to support her husband for a couple years while he pursued a screenwriting career.

"I originally imagined him being a bit more of a Donna Reed around the house," said the 36-year-old Madison, Wis., project manager. The couple didn't have kids, and Jocelyn's husband was home all day, so it seemed like a fair trade.

Only Jocelyn's husband wasn't much for cooking or cleaning, or even screenwriting for that matter. And soon Jocelyn's two years of playing breadwinner turned into 10.

"I think it did cause a serious imbalance," said Jocelyn, who' s now in the process of getting a divorce. "You have to each shoulder an equal burden, and it doesn't have to be financial. It's more about pulling your weight than about gender roles."

Turning the Tables -- Again

As for me, I've been giving a lot of thought lately to how important it may or may not be for me to pull my financial weight in my relationship.

Let me explain: My boyfriend, who makes more money than I do, is fond of dreaming up fantasy remodeling projects for my house. Last weekend, he suggested an idea for reconfiguring my cramped kitchen so two people could actually prepare a meal in it at the same time.

"I could never afford that," I protested.

Shaking Gender Roles Tough to Do

When he offered to pay for it -- earnestly -- it was both endearing and terrifying. Suddenly my independence felt like a rug being pulled out from under me in slow motion.

That night I dreamed I lost all my freelance writing work and wasn't eligible for unemployment. What little savings I'd had was gone and I moved in with my boyfriend out of necessity. (I'm guessing my house went into foreclosure.) If I needed dinner or a new printer cartridge, my boyfriend's credit card and checking account were at my disposal.

There was nothing cave-man-ish or controlling about it. He was simply helping me until I got back on my feet.

Still, in my dream state, I felt like the most worthless person in the world. Not only had I lost my cherished job and home, I couldn't even afford to buy a slice of pizza without tapping my significant other.

I guess new gender roles are tough to shake, too.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600. -- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 8205600.
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...