Over the weekend I read a Businessweek story, “Behind Every Great Woman,” about the rise of stay-at-home fathers. Apparently, the number of men in the U.S. who regularly care for children under age 5 increased to 32 percent in 2010 – up from 19 percent in 1988, according to Census figures.
Granted, this is an uncommon scenario, but even though the article warns against making “heroes” out of men who are primary caregivers, I found the tone of the article doing just that. I don’t feel compelled to give a man any extra kudos for staying home to care for the children he created. Maybe now that more men are taking on full-time child-raising as a career, the role might finally get the respect it lacked.
What I did find interesting was a buried tidbit that backed up a trend I’d been noticing in some of the relationship questions my clients have asked lately. There’s been an uptick in women who earn more than the men they’re involved with wondering whether it’s wrong to care about their mate’s current earnings or earning potential. Apparently it comes up more often these days, because 23 percent of wives out-earn their husbands, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center. And women 30 and under make more money, on average, than their male counterparts in all but three of the largest cities in the United States.
Usually when there’s a story about women making more than their partners, the focus is on how to assuage the male ego. But maybe that focus should turn to making sure women, deep down, are actually okay with a partner who makes less. Even for the post-feminist gains women have made on the professional front, most of us were raised on fairytales and romantic comedies, and as such, a whole lot of women still expect traditional roles when it comes to relationships – that is, a man being the breadwinner/provider. And when he isn’t, sometimes things get tricky.
Thinking about this reminded me of a New York magazine story from a few years back, “Alpha Women, Beta Men,” in which some women who earned significantly more than their partners complained of losing sexual desire for them. By paying for so much so often, they said, they began to feel more like parents than significant others. Some women complained they felt less feminine in the role of the provider. And other women reported that despite bringing home the bacon, they were even more likely to be expected to fry it up too — then clean the pans afterward! (A study from the Center for Research on Families at the University of Washington discovered that the more money a wife makes, the more housework she does in proportion to her husband.) Obviously, that can lead to resentment.
Of course, that is the worst-case scenario. Plenty of high-earning women are able to make it work with men who earn less — and these couples likely succeed by unbinding themselves from stereotypical gender roles and using exceptional (and regular) communication to make sure both partners’ needs are addressed in the relationship.
Are you comfortable earning more than your man?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk