The Other Gender Income Gap—What Happens When Women (Finally) Earn More

Why do women who earn more than their husbands end up doing more housework or quitting their jobs? Personal finance coach Farnoosh Torabi studied a new aspect of the household income divide and its surprising (and depressing) repercussions.

For the past 12 years, money expert Farnoosh Torabi has coached couples and individuals on their personal finances.

But recently she noticed more and more women were becoming the top-earners in their families--including her own. So she started to do some research on the phenomenon, and what she found shocked her.

“For the first time in my career, I found myself dumbfounded and disappointed,” Torabi says. “I was coming across statistics like breadwinning women have a 50% higher chance of divorce. 50%!”

Torabi herself had recently gotten married, and though she didn’t necessarily feel that her relationship was threatened by her breadwinning status, she did have some insecurities. “Media and our culture has been very vocal about women on the rise,” she says. “But no one’s discussing how we can continue to thrive--especially in our relationships.”

So she decided to take matters into her own hands. Wading through years of research, as well as conducting some of her own, Torabi compiled her conclusions in her new book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.

We wanted to know more, so we sat down with Torabi to find out how women--and men--can navigate this new financial landscape.

LearnVest: You did a lot of research for this book, and conducted your own survey of more than 1,000 women. What findings surprised you the most?

Farnoosh Torabi: Certainly the divorce statistic was sobering. One study followed couples over a five-year period--and during that period 12% of the couples got divorced. But in couples where the women earned more money, the divorce rate rose by 50%. I thought that was really startling.

Another interesting finding was that women who make more money actually do more housework—child care, housecleaning, etc. A study found that breadwinning women do at least two-thirds of the housework. Researchers think this might be due to gender-identity considerations that lead higher-earning women to subconsciously think they’re threatening to their husbands, so they resort to traditional housewifery roles in an effort to mitigate the potential threat that their breadwinning status creates.

And finally, what’s also sad is that when she makes more or has potential to earn more she’s more likely to stop working. What economists found is that wives with better education or earning potential are more likely to opt out of the workforce. That can be a dangerous thing to do, especially if you’re just doing it because working may threaten your relationship. You have to consider the long run and your financial stability over time.

How did we get to this point? It’s great that more women are becoming breadwinners, but why is it causing such issues?

I think we got here because we sort of took relationships for granted. We’ve spent years empowering girls and women to shoot for the stars, concentrate on their education and become independent--which is great, but the underlying message is that a relationship will kind of take care of itself and shouldn’t be a priority. The reality is, relationships matter. But we don’t have a guidebook on how to be strong and successful and still navigate a relationship--and housework and kids and everything else.

This is obviously affecting women, but there have been negative consequences for men too, right?

Definitely. For starters, men aren’t always sure what their role is. To further the problem, we have this growing generation gap. What we’re seeing is women in their twenties who are excelling in their education and career faster than men. If you pluck the random guy and girl at 28 and compare them, chances are she’s making more and has a higher education. Women are achieving more faster and earlier, which makes for a very unique dating scene.

Single women want to find their equal. But what they’re finding is guys their age who might not be where you expect them to be. Men and women are moving at different paces. And if they do get into a relationship, it can be a challenge. Money is a huge point of contention. And a lot of men are hardwired to feel like they need to provide financially.

So what should men do if they’re in a relationship where their partner earns more?

It’s imperative that he identify how else he can be a significant provider to their relationship and family. In couples that are thriving where the woman makes more, we’re seeing men step up in their responsibilities around the house with child care and housework. This is a real opportunity for them to tap into other ways to be the hero, to redefine what that means. Men have to think about what they want to provide that will be meaningful and make their life together easier.

And women?

If the woman is the primary breadwinner, she needs to invest in her husband, whether it’s helping him go back to school or encouraging him to pursue things he’s passionate about that could turn into a bigger revenue stream down the road.

What’s the biggest thing you hope people take away from your book?

That everyone needs to prepare for the scenario of the woman earning more in the relationship. It might not happen right off the bat, but chances are, at some point she will be--and it could affect your relationship. And we need to rewrite the fairy tale. Under this new dynamic, female breadwinners, single and married, have to rewrite the story of their lives and how they choose to live it, in terms of expectations, goals and the things that make us happy and fulfilled in our relationships.

This article originally appeared in LearnVest and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user JD Hancock]

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