How to help women who out-earn their spouses

For wives it seems that getting more money — compared to their husbands — can lead to more problems

How to help women who out-earn their spouses

When it comes to income inequality between genders, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the difference between the salaries of men and women is closing. But as more women earn larger incomes, they face increasing friction with their partners.

“The gender-income gap is closer than ever with young women today earning 93% of the average hourly wage of men, and approximately 29% of women are earning more than their husbands,“ wrote Michelle Arpin Begina of Snowden Lane Partners and Maureen Kelley of MADRE Financial in “Why then, if women are having career and financial success, are they so dissatisfied at home?”

Citing a 2013 study of 4,000 married American couples conducted by Marilyn Bertrand at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, they said divorce rates increased once a woman earned more income, regardless of the amount. In such situations, discussions about money tended to raise conflict, which caused marital dissatisfaction. “Unlike other arguments, money squabbles are more intense and take longer to recover from,” they said.

The two cited several cases where higher-earning women admitted to feelings of resentment toward their husbands and questioning whether they were preventing their partners from being ambitious. In the case of women who aren’t married yet, earning more than their partners could lead them to doubt the prospects of a long-term committed relationship.

Other studies even suggest that when the woman is the primary breadwinner, gaps in housework actually widen: men actually do less childcare and housework after their wives become a bigger contributor to household income. According to Begina and Kelley, men in such situations tend to feel their masculinity being threatened, which leads women to overcompensate by doing more.

“The critical question is whether couples in such relationships can courageously accept their new situation and balance the powerful role of women and their wealth with the issues of male self-esteem,” said Jay Hughes, retired estate attorney and expert on fiscal unequals. “Just as new roles are being forged for women, so must new roles be forged for men.”

Regina and Kelley suggested that financial advisors, who can speak to both personal and financial issues, could help mediate and neutralize such issues. “Consider facilitating conversations that help clients renew family and financial goals, while staying focused on the current problem(s) and brainstorming potential solutions together,” they said.

Advisors could start by asking clients what objectives they have, as well as the expectations and disappointments they have with respect to their partners. From there, they could help clients determine how satisfied they are with respect to various household and parenting issues that require financial resources, as well as other money-related issues.

“In the end, the couple may rewrite their scripts that modernize and honour the set of values they each have,” they said.


Related stories:
Is ETF industry giving women more career opportunities?
Women want to live longer — but are afraid to outlive their wealth