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When she earns more than he does [Commentary]

New book examines relationship troubles

Susan Reimer

6:00 AM EDT, May 5, 2014

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It probably shouldn't be a surprise. When she earns more than he earns, according to a new book on the subject, his ego and their relationship can take a hit.

Author Farnoosh Torabi is a first generational Iranian-American and a personal finance journalist. When she chose to marry a man who earns less than she, her mother was not happy. She told a reporter that she felt like she was a disappointment to her family.

She decided to explore the dynamics of this salary inequity and collected her findings in "When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women." (On the cover is a $100 bill, folded to look like a dress.)

The fact is, she wrote, 24 percent of wives earn more than their spouses — four times the percentage in the 1960s.

In addition, in a quarter of the homes with children under 18, the mother is the primary breadwinner; women are earning more college degrees and graduate degrees than men, and college-educated women established in careers are increasingly choosing to have children — without a husband.

The problem is, our attitudes haven't kept up with these changes.

"Our personal lives are still heavily defined by the experiences with which we grew up," she writes. "This may be why many women in the primary breadwinning position are not entirely comfortable.

"And while their men may take pleasure in their success, the women can be secretly frustrated and disrespectful if their partner doesn't match their hunger and earning power."

She also quotes a survey that found almost three-quarters of the women respondents would rather divorce and raise the kids alone if their spouses wanted them to quit and be full-time housewives or dial back their work to part time.

"We've arrived at the future our feminist leaders campaigned for decades ago, but many of us are not fully equipped to deal with the inevitable, often painful, adjustments that come with the shift," she writes.

This salary discrepancy affects whether women will decide to marry — and whether they will stay married. The lesser-earning husbands are five times more likely to cheat, Ms. Torabi discovered, and couples in that situation have divorce rates that are 50 percent higher.

Men also report that their sense of masculinity is negatively affected and — get this — men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction requiring medication. According to a report from the Washington University's Olin Business School in St. Louis, the greater the salary imbalance, the greater the problem with ED.

On the other side of the bed, she is more likely to feel she has to stay on top of all the family's financial matters and at the same time focus on her career to keep her income stream going. But she is still more likely to take on additional household and child care duties, presumably to ease her discomfort.

She is more likely to feel frustration and resentment toward him, and she is also more likely to quit or work less if she senses her paycheck is causing problems.

I don't know about you, but this has never been a problem in my marriage.

My husband and I are both journalists, and we started out making almost exactly the same salary. But then I had children and my earnings stalled while his kept climbing. I've never caught up. That, I think, is the more common salary scenario with couples.

Ms. Torabi shares a lot of detail about how she and her husband — they are just married and there are no kids yet — arrange their finances, making the point that they have talked all of this through, her most important advice.

She also recommends that women use some of that extra money to outsource household tasks to reduce the possible resentment and the burnout. And if he does not agree with one of your financial decisions, she writes, talk it out.

Don't assume the power rests with the money.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.


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