In nearly 40 percent of American marriages today, the wife earns more
than the husband. And according to Sandra Tsing Loh's new piece in The Atlantic, "The Weaker Sex," this
means trouble—for both spouses. After all, notes Loh, "One 2010 study showed that
when a woman's contribution to household income tops 60 percent, the
couple is more likely to divorce." And why is this? Well, because apparently
while we women have evolved into 21st-Century Don Drapers, our husbands have yet to transform themselves into at-your-service Bettys. "When a woman supports the household, she becomes quite sensitive to how the man spends his downtime, particularly when laundry baskets overflow," says Loh. She mentions one high-powered friend who is so fed up with her writer husband that she forces him to enter emergency marriage counseling for forgetting to change a lightbulb.
As a result, the happily divorced Loh
wonders whether women who earn more than their husbands have any use for a
partner—period. The problem with her analysis is that it relies on an
exaggerated version of a power imbalance within a relationship. In Loh's world,
it seems, type-A breadwinner wives pull down big salaries, their sad-sack husbands
are bumbling "B-minus housewives" and any sense of equal partnership (not to
mention romance) has left the building.
But in the real world, most of those 40
percenters who out-earn their spouses aren't flush CFOs—they're middle- or
working-class women who still rely on their partners to provide an income, even
if it doesn't match their own. And I'd also hazard to guess that not all
lower-paid husbands are pathetic loafers: They're smart, competent men whose wife happens to cash a bigger paycheck. Plus, what about the husbands who choose to
be full-time dads? (Would any stay-at-home-mom stand for their working spouse calling
them a "B-minus housewife"? I doubt it.) And what about the husbands who have
lost their jobs (since the start of the recession, the unemployment rate has
been higher for men than for women), and are still trying to contribute to their
families in whatever way they can?
My own husband falls into this last category.
In the three-plus years since he was laid off from a longtime position in the
music industry, he's gone back to school, held various freelance gigs, and
taken great care of our two-year-old daughter. Has our relationship suffered at
times as a result of his unemployment? I'll be honest, yes. This is largely due
to the unexpectedness of it—his becoming a stay-at-home parent wasn't a
decision that we sat down and made together; it just happened. And while I
always assumed that I'd be responsible for contributing to the joint bank
account—or even being the primary breadwinner—I never really thought that I'd
be the only earner for this long.
It's a little scary sometimes.
But it's also an incredible luxury to have
my husband at home, especially being a working mother. I know my daughter is
being cared for by someone who loves her every bit as much as I do. If a
meeting runs long at work, I don't have to bite my nails watching the clock tick
toward 5 o'clock. And we're able to spend weekends having fun as a family rather
than packing Saturdays and Sundays full of errands and chores. Is our apartment
scrubbed to gleaming perfection 24/7? Uh, no, but I can say with full certainty
that I would make an even crappier 1950s-style housewife. At least my husband
And as far as his financial contribution
goes—hey, full-time child care ain't cheap. As someone who is most definitely not pulling down a CFO's salary, I
breathe a sigh of relief that we don't have to pay thousands of dollars for
daycare or a nanny each month. In fact, we've been talking about having a
second child, and ironically having one parent at home would make it easier financially—otherwise our
child care bill would double with the arrival of Child No. 2.
Neither of us wants our family's single-paycheck
status to go on indefinitely, but we're making the best of it. I love and
respect my husband—regardless of how much money he makes—because he earns it by being a supportive partner,
a great friend and terrific father. Had the roles been reversed (after all, for
all I know, 20 years from now my husband could be bankrolling me) I'd certainly want him to treat me
the same way—no matter how many burned-out lightbulbs I might forget to change.