The gender pay gap is alive and well. Research shows that the majority of women between 25 and 34 years of age earn 89 cents on every dollar men in similar age bracket receive. While the pay gap has narrowed substantially in the past 20 years, the difference in pay is still a major frustration for women.
While this means that the majority of men earn more than their wife or partner, women still earn more than their partners or husbands in nearly a quarter of couples. Is this a problem?
There is no single right or wrong answer, of course. The higher-earning wife may flip the traditional idea of the male as ‘breadwinner’, but whether or not this affects the dynamics of a relationship is down to the couple itself, and them alone.
There are no denying social views can have an effect on your relationship. Some people still believe that a good husband should be able to support his family financially. This is an old-fashioned view that can put considerable pressure on males — and this might be harmful in certain cases.
How is a man who’s made redundant and unable to find a new job supposed to feel if he can’t afford to pay most of the bills or cover the bulk of mortgage payments?
And what of men who become ill and have to reduce their working hours, if not quit altogether? If they buy into such outdated social ideals, they could consider themselves as failures and a burden to their families. Their entire sense of self and familial role would be damaged. Financial stress and being unable to provide has been shown to play a bigger role in male suicides than female.
There are many reasons why a woman might earn more than her husband or partner. He might be studying at college as a mature student or retraining for a new vocation. He could be between jobs and searching high and low for a new vacancy.
Still, that’s not to say both people in the relationship don’t have well-paid jobs: just because the wife receives more doesn’t mean the husband is a low-earner. She might work in a higher-paid role, such as a doctor, banker or college professor, while he’s a senior school teacher pulling in a solid paycheck.
In a case like this, the husband would still be making a valuable contribution to the household, yet anyone hearing that the wife earns more may assume he was lazy, lacking in ambition and generally not pulling his weight ‘as a man’, no matter how incorrect they would be.
Societal norms can have an impact on a woman’s feelings towards her lower-earning husband too.
A study revealed that women with a better income tend to be more likely to be embarrassed or resentful, believing their ‘status’ may be reduced due to their partner’s smaller salary. This was shown to make a negative effect on their relationship, so much so they became more likely to consider a divorce.
The same research showed that husbands involved in the study only felt dissatisfied in their partnership if their wives expressed their own unhappiness. However, in cases where wives received more help with child or house care from partners, they were less likely to experience marital difficulties.
In fact, the survey’s results suggested that receiving physical assistance and support was actually more important to higher-earning, career-focused women than emotional support.
An individual experience
Still, we have to remember that surveys only cover a specific group of people and don’t reflect everyone’s experience. For some couples, males will feel no less ‘of a man’ (according to society’s traditional standards) if their wife earns more, nor will the woman view her husband with any less respect.
Different career paths lead couples in different professional directions, but this doesn’t have to have an impact on their relationship. A husband may work for a non-profit and be dedicated to charity projects, dedicating his life to improving the environment or the lives of others. What partner wouldn’t feel proud of them and be willing to handle more of the financial heavy-lifting?
It goes without saying that if one partner pays more of the bills they will feel more pressure to work hard and earn the money, which makes it even more important for the lower-earning person (male or female) to recognize this. The couple would have to have an open, honest conversation about money and responsibilities around the house.
Mutual respect and honesty
It has to be said, though, that this should be the case regardless of who earns more in a relationship. Mutual respect and honesty are critical elements of any successful marriage. Both should be comfortable in their life choices, and neither should be made to feel as if they’re the ‘weak link’ in the partnership.
If one person is working considerably harder than the other, it’s only fair that he or she helps to make life as easy as possible. That’s simple, and something we can all probably agree on.
It’s about mutual respect. It’s about ignoring those outmoded beliefs some in society still hold about what either gender should or shouldn’t be doing in their own private lives. It’s about working to make a marriage a success and not letting others control what you think about the most important person in your life.