When She Earns More: How To Make It Work?

farnoosh tornabiIn about one-quarter of all marriages in this country, the woman is the primary breadwinner and outearns her husband or partner.

Needless to say, that can change the traditional family dynamics about who takes care of the kids, makes the financial decisions, and plunks down the credit card at the end of a dinner out.

For insights into this major generational change, take a look at the new book by Farnoosh Torabi called “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.”

(Clients who are interested in the book are welcome to borrow ours from the office bookshelf!)

Women are way out in front within the Gen X and Gen Y demographic groups (roughly those born from 1980 onward).  In fact, Torabi makes the point that women under the age of thirty now have higher median income, on average, than men in nearly every major city across the country.

(Part of the reason for this, says Torabi, is that boys seem to mature more slowly and aren’t quite ready for prime time until later in their twenties. So note that while they may start off behind, they may not stay behind. If you have a college-age boy, like I do, you’ll probably be nodding your head in agreement!).

What do the in-laws think?

High-powered women breadwinners may be the new reality, but society’s not always comfortable with the concept. Admits Torabi, “we’re a bit mixed about what we think about all this.” Even women aren’t so sure what to make of it, and deep down, some feel bad outstripping their husbands in earning power, and guilty spending time away from kids.

The result? Couples may need to make up the rules as they go along. Here’s guidelines to making it work:

Every couple handles money and financial decision-making differently. There’s really no “right” answer, says Torabi, citing several different examples of how families can divvy up money, household chores, and financial accounts (the famous “yours,” “mine,” and “ours” division is a popular choice). The “best” way is undoubtedly one that combines a degree of financial independence with some shared decision-making, so each partner knows what’s going on and has a say.

The happy family is one that shares values and priorities, so they’re all pulling in the same direction, regardless of who earns what.  Couples might go through different stages and roles, so it’s important to reevaluate circumstances every few years. He may put his career on the back burner to let her advance, then they might swap so she can spend more time with teenage kids.

Traditional gender stereotypes still exist, and can make it hard – on both women and men – when the woman becomes the primary breadwinner. The in-laws may not be that understanding of the man who stays home to take care of the kids, or the executive mom who can’t make it to classroom events. Both partners need to learn to value what the other contributes to the family, or the marriage will start to unravel.

Household chores, and “who does what,” is still a minefield. Who can’t identify with this stereotypical scenario? She comes home exhausted after a long day of work, and finds him sitting on the couch relaxing and watching the sports highlights. When he yells out “Welcome home, honey! What’s for dinner?” you know it’s time to work out some new household routines. It may be worth spending money outsourcing some household duties, or simply learning not to stress the small stuff.

Parenting offers some extra challenges. Torabi advises stay-at-home dads with high-earning wives to work part-time or stay active in their industry, since there may come a time when they’ll want to go back to work (and the same holds true for moms). The working parents’ mantra should be “make it work” rather than “have it all.” Parenting always involves some compromise and sacrifice, regardless of who earns more.

The takeaway:  Women who earn more are breaking a deep-seated societal taboo. Their income can be a blessing or a threat, depending on the family dynamics. It’s important to see their success as a gift, says Torabi. “Women who do not hide their talents and gifts have a much stronger sense of worth and can parlay that into a powerful, enriching relationship with a partner. They can also share their success with children who aspire when they grow up to be equally successful, regardless of their gender.”

P.S.   Don’t miss the related article on “Dads’ Housework Inspires Girls’ Ambitions.”  A recent study in Psychological Science seems to suggest that fathers who help with the dishes and laundry, and perform an equal share of household chores, are more likely to have daughters who aspire to “less traditionally feminine occupations, such as astronaut, marine biologist, geologist, police officer and professional hockey or soccer player.”


About Mari Adam

Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner™ has been helping individuals and families chart their financial futures for over twenty-five years. Have a question about your financial situation? Ask Mari!

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