In situations where women earn more, the likelihood of divorce rises. We know that it's more often the women who want out. However, we do not know which comes first: Does the fact that women are earning more make them think they can find a better life outside their marriage? Or do unhappy women seek to earn more as a way to escape a bad situation? This is a very important distinction. But either way, the paradigm shift raises a crucial question: How do you find a safe place that allows you to get rich and stay married? Or, if you're single, a place that allows you to build a secure and loving relationship with a partner in the future?
Marriage Changes Everything
Researchers have seen a marked difference between people who live together and people who are married. When people are "just" living together, they still operate as two independent souls who happen to reside under one roof. But when they marry, they start carrying the cultural weight that for generations has come along with being husbands or wives, and their behavior changes accordingly.
Interestingly, the more financial independence a woman has the less eager she is to get married. Working women are 50 percent more likely to move in with a partner and 15 percent less likely to marry than women who don't work steadily, according to research from Cornell University. By contrast, the more financially independent men are, the more likely they are to want to put a ring on some woman's finger. Men who earn an above-average salary are 26 percent more likely to get married than those who earn an average one. Again, that's tradition talking.
Trouble is, all traditions—and the way we feel about them—are on very shaky ground these days. That's because the world of earnings is changing. And it's doing so very quickly. In 2000, 22 percent of women earned more than their spouses. In 2006, it's 30 percent (some researchers say it's even higher), which means the needle moved by 8 percentage points in only six years. Experts who look at educational trends—the fact that more women than men are now applying to college and to many graduate schools—believe that by 2030 the average woman will earn more than the average man. Will Your Paycheck Predict Divorce? Those changes may signal a big problem for American family life. Research completed in the past few years shows that men and women prefer the traditional model. Men and women are happier in marriages in which the husband earns more than the wife. These days, however, that model is not always possible to achieve. When a woman marries a man who is younger than she is (according to the AARP, one-third of women ages 40 to 60 are dating younger men), she is likely to earn more than he. And the simple fact that women traditionally have earned less makes them more attractive employees to keep in times of downsizing.
So women compensate. If you are a woman who out-earns her spouse or partner, you know exactly what I mean. Some families hide the fact that the woman is the breadwinner by putting complete financial control in the hands of the man or by earmarking the woman's income to pay the big bills (such as the mortgage and car payments) so there's no money left for her to spend as she sees fit. Other times, the woman feels so guilty about out-earning her partner that she takes on more and more of the housework. Rarely will either spouse admit that the woman is the breadwinner to their families or friends. And if and when those superficial fixes fail to work, more of these families split up than the average.
Is there any hope for your relationship? Here are my suggestions, based on current research, my conversations with women in this situation, and my own life experience as a woman who has been in the position of earning more—and earning less—than her spouse. I'm asking you to change your attitudes, not necessarily your habits.
Love and Money continues... Talk—and Listen—To Each Other Paychecks and housework aside, a new study from the University of Virginia shows that the factor that contributes most to whether you are happy in your marriage is whether your husband or partner is engaged emotionally. If he listens to you, is concerned about what's important to you, stops and focuses when it is clear that you are happy or unhappy about something and want to share, you are likely to want to stick around for more. How do you get him to this point? Start by doing the same for him. If he doesn't get it, then ask—outright—for him to pay attention.
Do it, say this and sound smart: "I really want to know what happened during your day—and how you feel about it. And then I want to tell you about mine."
Love and Money continues... Date You may have to get each other out of the house, out of the busyness of everyday life, in order to pay attention to each other's needs. So date. Once a week is a must. Twice a week is a plus. And at least a few times a year (even if you have to bribe a sibling or a friend or pay a sitter) leave the kids at home or ship them out so you can have a quiet overnight or weekend. Being in your own house in front of a fire, reading books and rubbing each other's feet, or eating popcorn and watching a video you've chosen together without little ones begging for attention is necessary for the preservation of a romantic relationship.
Do it, say this, and sound smart: "I made a dinner reservation for 8:00, the sitter is coming at 7:30. You can thank me later."
Love and Money continues... Be His Biggest Cheerleader Make the effort to understand why your husband gets such a kick out of his career, say, teaching middle-school Social Studies or, if he doesn't work outside the house, why he enjoys staying home with the kids. What does it do for his psyche? How does it feel to him to be the teacher all the kids want to have or the dad who gets to see the smiles coming off the school bus? Tell him how much you admire what he's doing. Tell him how you feel about the fact that he can be home after school to help your kids with their homework and how it's helping them pull better grades.
Here's the key: You have to believe, deep down, that what your partner is bringing to the relationship is just as valuable as what you are bringing to the relationship. Otherwise, you are destined to fail.
Do it, say this, and sound smart: "I am so grateful for the great job you're doing for our family. You're a great role model for the kids."
Love and Money continues... Let Him Be Your Biggest Cheerleader Share enough about your day to allow him to get the same sense from you. What's it like working in that big hospital? Do you get a rush having all those people report to you? Share with him when you get a raise or promotion or kudos for a job well done. Don't bury it because you're afraid to overshadow him.
Allow him to be proud of you in the same way that you are of him. Concentrate on what's good for your family, not the perceptions of the outside world. It will help immensely if you can shut out the noise. As women have risen in the working world, we have seen instances where they turn down jobs involving travel or promotions—even if they would enjoy those opportunities—because they think they'll be perceived to be bad wives or bad mothers. You'll be a lot less likely to make choices that matter to others (others who are largely irrelevant) if you and your spouse are working as a team.
Do it, say this, and sound smart: "As long as it works for our family, who cares what anyone else thinks?"
Love and Money continues... Discuss Your Paychecks—Both of Them Try to do so in the context of getting somewhere as a family. Focus on the endgame. Talk about what you want your money to do for you. What are your shared goals as a couple? As parents? Do you want to pay off the house? Travel to Greece? Put the kids through college with as few loans as possible? Retire promptly at 65? Well, okay then!
If you disagree about the goals, compromise. Even agreeing to disagree about certain things is part of the process. These are the important things, not the size of your individual paychecks. The size of your paychecks is relevant only to whether there's enough there—combined—in order to make those things possible. And if there's not, then you both modify the goals, or modify your jobs, to make them possible. But you do it working together. You keep the lines of communication open.
Do it, say this, and sound smart: "That raise you got will really help us pay off the car this year. Then we can focus on stockpiling for college."