It's safe to say that the modern family in the year 2019 looks a whole lot different than it did even just a decade ago. Case in point: Statistics from a new survey, discovered that in a whopping 40 percent of American households, a woman is the primary breadwinner. These stats echo recent research of the last few years. In 2016, the Center for American Progress released a report that found that 42 percent of mothers were the sole or primary breadwinner in the family during the year 2015. That got us thinking: What is it really like to make more money than your husband? Does it affect your marriage? If so, for better or for worse?
Lindsey M. has worked full-time since graduating college and now holds the title a Vice President title for a small oil and gas company. Before having kids, she and her husband both worked full time, but she always made significantly more money. Over the course of their marriage, the couple has had to move four times for Lindsey's job, which meant that his career took a back seat to hers. Since having kids, her husband has worked part-time from home and chose to take on most of the child-rearing duties while she continued working. For the couple, this setup just works. "For one thing, my profession just pays more than his, so from a purely pragmatic perspective, it financially makes sense for me to work," she says. "When we decided to have children, I had the choice to continue working or stay home, as did he, and we were both open to using full-time child care. Ultimately, however, my husband chose to work less, find something he could do from home, and be with the kids."
Lindsey even thinks that their unconventional setup has made their relationship easier. "My husband knows it's unique for a man to get the opportunity to spend so much time with his kids and have a part-time career he truly loves without the burden of supporting the family financially, and I feel incredibly blessed to have a husband who is so supportive and lets me have a family and the career I want. Instead of feeling trapped by what we're 'supposed to do,' we just feel lucky," she says.
Like Lindsey, shaking up the traditional role of breadwinner in the marriage was something that Alayna P. and her husband both decided made the most sense for them. "I graduated from college only a few months prior to marrying my husband and had a full-time job locked down when we got married," she says. "My husband, on the other hand, was still in college so I decided to support him financially through the rest of his college education."
Although it was easy to make the decision to become the breadwinner, there were a few challenges that Alayna says came with the transition. "First, I had to change my mindset from supporting only myself to another person, and I had to remember that my husband was trying to finish school so he could really start financially contributing to our relationship," she says. "As in any marriage, I had to make sure I wasn't just thinking 'I make the money, so it's my money and I can do what I want with it.'" Having to financially support another person was a definite change in their relationship, but Alayna says it brought them closer together. "I had the feeling of fulfillment while my husband contributed to our relationship in different ways and showed his appreciation for my efforts. Overall, it was a good experience."
Laura D. finds being the female breadwinner to be a bittersweet battle. In the 27 years she's been married, she's made more money than her husband off and on. As a psychotherapist, she's also worked with a handful of couples in which the woman earns more money than the man. For her and for the women she treats, she's found it to be a mixed blessing. "There's a sense of power, security, and fun in being the breadwinner, but that can be tempered by guilt, impermanence, and disgust," she says. "I've had several women in my office who's chief complaint is dislike of their husband because he is a stay-at-home father and she is the breadwinner. They report that, while they agreed on the arrangement, it began to bother them after several years, and even that they have a hard time thinking of a man being a housekeeper and childminder."
In Laura's situation, she and her husband jockey for the title each year since he's a physician, too. "Some years I've made more and in some less, but we like to treat it as a fun competition," she says. "When I 'win' I feel great—like I can take on anything and am unconsciously patting myself on the back; however, I admit some of the feelings my patients describe above have crept in." She explains that she sometimes felt a bit annoyed and resentful, which she resolved by working part-time when her kids were still at home. "As soon as they left, I went back to full-time status. Nevertheless, the negative feelings still follow the positive when the pay discrepancy occurs."
Melissa B.'s engineer husband supported her all through law school. Once she graduated, she decided to "hang her own shingle" with hopes of building her own firm. "A couple years after building my name in the community, networking, and even hiring a small team of lawyers, I more than surpassed his income, which is honestly a great feeling," she says. "When I was in school, I was barely contributing because I was always deep in homework. Now I'm finally able to take care of him and feel like I'm contributing to the family." Lucky for Melissa, her husband isn't bothered by this "role reversal." "Whenever one of his friends tease him about me making more, he's quick to say something to the effect of 'Sorry, I can't hear you over all of my wife's success.'"
When Micah K. and her husband got married, they received an incredibly helpful piece advice from another couple who'd been married for over 50 years. "If you want to ruin your relationship and fail in your marriage, approach our finances with the intentional 'I'." This sentiment really resonated with Micah, especially as the breadwinner. "We shifted our mindset from 'his money/her money' to 'our money' and became more open with how we wanted to invest our income, how much to save, and what to spend, and this 'we/us' mindset has saved our marriage financially," she says. "Is my husband embarrassed that I'm the breadwinner and make more than him? Absolutely not. He contributes to our family in a way I cannot, and I do the same because we are a team."