A research paper by Marianne Bertrand, Emir Kamenica (both University of Chicago) and Jessica Pan (National University of Singapore), had, among its findings, information that revealed that if wives earned more than thier husbands, it strained their marriages and also led to higher divorce rates.
As long as the woman earns less, her income does not cause trouble in the marriage. Once she earns more, however, marriage difficulties jump and divorce rates increase. Interestingly, it does not seem to matter whether she earns only slightly more, or substantially more—an indication that it is not female income per se, but the mere fact of earning more, that causes trouble.
While it is obvious that we can not uniformly apply these findings, I have to admit that I find them a little unsettling. As I read the findings, the first thing that I thought of was some woman reading the same findings and then immediately blaming the men for not being able to handle “a strong woman”. While I can agree that there are some men who are threatened by women who they perceive to have the potential to achieve more success and financial compensation than them, I would also add that there are women who are unable to conduct themselves in a dignified manner when they do.
I grew up in a traditional home in which my father was the obvious breadwinner. My mother worked and she had a successful career, but it was still obvious to us, even when we were small children, that my father was the one who was expected to provide for us as a family. I share that in the interests of full disclosure and admit that that may color my perspective a little bit. I have no problem with women deciding to take a step back, much like Mrs. Obama did (when President Obama decided to run for President), so that their husbands can step up and be the primary bread winners. That being said, I have also seen homes where women were the ones that earned more money than their husbands but what stood out to me as significant was not the size of the woman’s paycheck, but her personal conduct.
Just in the same way that there are men who are threatened by a woman with a bigger paycheck, there are also women who’s paycheck seems to give them permission to be disrespectful and conduct themselves in very unbecoming ways. I would argue that a lot of times, the strain that seems to come from the wives’ bigger paycheck may actually come from her attitude about her paycheck. Of course, this is not always the case; it is also possible that her husband is the one with insecurity issues. I have also seen women who had bigger paychecks than their husbands and still maintained their roles as loving and respectful wives. Let’s also not forget that there are also people who will judge a man if they deem his paycheck too small and there are men who also have bad attitudes when they have a bigger pay check, so there are many ways that the paycheck issue can cause issues in a marriage or relationship.
At the end of the day, I think that the size of a paycheck does matter, but so does the attitudes and personal conduct of the two people in the relationship. I think that it is important for each person in the relationship to be honest with themselves and their partner about how they feel about having a non-traditional relationship (or a traditional one). If this causes some discomfort, that issue should be put on the table and dealt with. I’d like to believe that when people walk into marriages, they value many things about each other beyond paychecks and careers and I would also like to believe that if the paycheck became an issue, the issues could be resolved, rather than throw away the relationship or the marriage.
Nomalanga helps Black Women thrive in their lives and careers. She is a Social Commentator, an Editor at Your Black World , Assistant Professor of Professional Studies and the reigning Mrs Botswana. Visit Nomalanga’s blog at successfulblackwoman.com