Marriage and Money: Husbands Get Financial Benefit From Wives

New study shows girl gets boy, and boy gets money.

Jan. 20, 2010— -- There was a time when a woman's road to financial security ran straight down the aisle and into the arms of a husband. It's the plot of just about every Marilyn Monroe movie; girl meets boy, girl hopes to cash in big.

But times have changed.

A new study by the Pew Research Center shows that it's not the wives who get the biggest economic boost from marriage. It's the husbands.

The reason: Women have entered the workforce in a big way in the past 40 years. And they're outpacing men in education and income growth.

The numbers, according to Pew, don't lie. Median household income has risen 60 percent for married men and women since 1970. Single men have seen a 16 percent increase.

"Back in 1970, if you were a young male, you were much better off if you were unmarried rather than married," study author Richard Fry said. "Now, married men are significantly better off than unmarried men."

That's partly because men are marrying up. Twenty-eight percent of wives now have more education than their husbands, up from 20 percent in 1970.

Educated women are working more and, increasingly, have become the breadwinners. In the new home economics, it's not uncommon for a wife to earn more than her husband. In 1970, 4 percent of women found themselves in that situation, compared with 22 percent now.

Couples such as Steve and Julie Holmes of Sacramento, Calif., are a case in point. He's a freelance photographer, she works for IBM.

"I just look at it as he has his job and I have mine," Julie Holmes says. "And, at times, I make considerably more than she does."

And her husband is OK with that?

"You know, I am and I'm not," he says.

"It's funny. I would like to think that I'm a liberated male, that I have a different mindset about it, but I do feel like I should be doing more. It's tough."

More Security for Husbands

The recession has exaggerated the shift in financial power. As many as 75 percent of the jobs lost in the 2008 downturn belonged to men, from blue-collar jobs in manufacturing to white-collar finance positions.

But the married men, at least, have someone to share the pain. "In strictly economic terms, marriage has always been a source of security for women," author Fry says. "Increasingly, that's true for men as well."

So the study suggests that diamonds are no longer just "a girl's best friend." For the boys, it's a good investment; for better or worse, for richer or poorer.