When it comes to female breadwinners, we often see various percentages quoted:
- 29% is the percentage of heterosexual marriages in which the woman out earns the man, when they are both working.
- 38% is the percentage of heterosexual marriages in which only the woman works, and they are thus the only breadwinner.
- 40% is the percentage of households with children (with or without a married couple) in which the woman is the primary breadwinner.
So, while 40% refers to the total percentage of women who are the primary breadwinners, 29% refers to the percentage of women who earn more than their husbands.
As it turns out, income gaps between partners are more common than income parity. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2015 only 25% of husbands/wives had annual earnings no more than $5,000 apart. In 9% of cases, the wife’s income was $30,000 or greater than the husband’s, and in 35% of cases, the husband’s income was $30,000 or greater than the wife’s.
In relationships where women earn more, what do we know about how this impacts the couple? Let’s take a closer look.
What are the advantages of a woman being the high earner within a couple?
In any marriage or partnership, having two earning partners can contribute greatly to the current and future financial stability of the household. Furthermore, when a woman is the higher earner, she will likely be more engaged in the financial management of the household, will likely have and give more input into the financial decision-making, and as a result, will feel more empowered. At The Humphreys Group, we have seen that all these aspects can lead to better financial outcomes for the couple. When there is a true partnership, shared power, and shared responsibility—not just in spirit but in financial reality—it can be beneficial for both spouses, and for the entire family.
What about some disadvantages or challenges that a couple in this position might face?
Unfortunately, there are many cultural norms that stubbornly expect (and even want) the man to be the primary breadwinner, which can lead some men in this position to feel judged or emasculated. One way to combat this potential challenge? Strong communication and a very explicit and intentional recognition by each partner as to the value that each spouse brings to the household beyond the numbers.
There is also inevitably a power dynamic between spouses with earning disparities. To maintain a healthy relationship, it is critical for the spouses to find common ground, identify common values, and find financial solutions that meet both spouse’s needs. Finding common ground requires truly understanding what is important to each partner, including their values and what gives their life meaning. Discovering these shared values gives couples a sturdy foundation and can help to block out the noise and pressure from external factors like status, societal expectations, or quantitative measurements.
Are there any challenges specific to parenting roles that couples might come up against?
To answer this question, we’d like to first share a sweet anecdote. Did you know that seahorses are one of the only animal species in which the fathers carry, deliver, and care for the young? There was a dad who was the stay-at-home parent for the family’s daughter for her entire childhood. When she was 18, father and daughter decided to get matching tattoos of a seahorse.
The truth is, everyone benefits when children have strong relationships with both parents. Whether the father is a stay-at-home dad or is pursuing a less demanding career, this is a great opportunity for fathers to be more front, center, and present with their children. If anything, this should be celebrated!
Conquer gender norms with The Humphreys Group
In our work with clients, in the case of the wife having more income and/or assets than the husband, a lot of time is spent on what it means for the husband, how to navigate the emotional and psychological challenges, and what strategies could be helpful. But this almost never happens when it’s the husband who earns more.
Unfortunately, we understand that gender norms and expectations still permeate the financial landscape. You might have complicated feelings about being the primary breadwinner. Maybe you feel disconnected and isolated from friends, perhaps you feel like you’re taken for granted by your family at times, or maybe you feel unsure about how to handle changing dynamics in your household with your family and partner.
At The Humphreys Group, we don’t just address the technical side of wealth management. We also discuss the emotional side. We understand the pressure that tends to fall on the CFO of the household. After all, you’re responsible for your family’s financial security, a role that comes with a lot of anxiety. That’s why we always approach wealth management with empathy and expertise in equal measure. Get in touch to continue the conversation.