Dr. Helen

Would You Care if Your Wife Earned More?

According to this study, marriages don’t go well when the wife earns more:

Women outearn their husbands in nearly a quarter of households with spouses between 18 and 65 years old, according to data from the 2010 American Community Survey. But their increased paycheck comes at a price, as the researchers show. They find that marriage rates decline when a woman has the potential to outearn her husband. Using US Census Bureau data from 1970 to 2010, Bertrand and her coauthors find that the more likely it is that a wife can earn more than her husband, the less likely she is to work outside the home.

Moreover, among adults age 25 to 39, marriage rates have declined from about 81 percent in 1970 to 51 percent in 2010. The authors calculate that as much as 29 percent of that decline may be linked to aversion to a wife earning more than her husband.

Naturally, the researchers conclude that women picking up all the slack is to blame for higher rates of divorce:

Moreover, wives who earn more often end up doing more of the household chores, not less. Data from the American Time Use Survey, covering the years 2003 to 2011, showed that while husbands spent an average of 20.8 hours a week on non-market work and childcare, wives spent 33.5 hours on those activities. One explanation for this, the researchers suggest, is that a wife making more money is doing more chores to assuage her husband’s unease. But serving as both the primary breadwinner and the primary homemaker may be draining. That, the researchers point out, “may be one of the mechanisms behind our results on divorce.”

However, studies have also shown that women are unhappy when they earn more than their husbands so I wonder if the unhappiness is caused partly because the women feel that they should have a man with “higher status.”

I think in today’s legal climate, it is a good idea for a man to marry someone who makes more money than they do, for the simple reason that it may protect him more down the line if there is a divorce. Most men I know don’t care if the wife makes more money, but then, that is my experience.

Would you care if your wife earned more or would it be a welcome relief?


Image courtesy shutterstock / Kary1974