Thursday, April 28, 2011

She Makes More Money Than He Does. So?

Women who outearn their men.

When my husband and I got married I was making more money than he was. We both had steady journalism jobs but I was also writing a column on the side, which put me ahead. At the time, I didn't gloat, and he didn't care. Mostly we spent the extra money on treats for both of us—fancy meals, weekend trips—and anyway, the gender-role reversal didn't last. Three children and several job switches later, he's edged me out for top family earner. But I wonder: What if our marriage had not gone the traditional route, and I had stayed on top? Would that have changed our dynamic in some way? Would small resentments have built up over time? Or would we have felt perfectly comfortable, even proud to be so progressive?

For many American couples, this is not just a thought experiment. Researchers have recently begun scrutinizing a new kind of family ruled by "breadwinner wives" or "top income wives," defined as women who make more money than their husbands. About 22 percent of American marriages of people over 30 fall into this category, up from 4 percent in 1970. (For men without a college degree, the rate is higher: One-quarter are married to wives who earn more than they do.) And demographers expect the number of such marriages to grow, as women continue to get more college degrees than young men and to outearn them, especially early in their careers.

Already, younger people's relationships look radically different. A recent breakdown of census data showed that in all but three of the 150 biggest cities in the United States, young women age 30 and under are making more money than young men. Even if that changes when the women have children, such a vast shift in earning power suggests that the next generation may make different decisions about whose salary counts more and who should be the family's primary breadwinner. This is all happening despite widespread ambivalence. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 67 percent of Americans said that in order to be ready for marriage, a man should be able to support his family financially, while only 33 percent said the same for women. A 2007 Pew survey found that working mothers increasingly say they would rather not work full time. And another Pew study out today shows the nation divided over the sweeping changes to family structure that have unfolded over the past half-century, with about one-third of Americans generally accepting these changes, one-third skeptical about them, and one-third opposed to them.    Read More

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