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March 8, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Do Female Bread Winners Have Unhappy Partners?

By Claire Franklin More Blogs by This Author

Decades ago, women didn’t have the luxury of terming themselves the breadwinners of their homes. In 1979, the average hourly wages of men who worked full time were 37 percent higher than the wages of their female counterparts. Since then, the median job tenure has risen noticeably higher for women, but it remains relatively unchanged for men. This means some women earn more than their husbands, thus acquiring the title of “breadwinner.”

Tipping the Scales

But the race to gender equality has come with several pitfalls. Of particular note is a 2013 study that finds men married to women with higher incomes are more likely to use erectile dysfunction medications than their male bread winning counterparts. An intriguing finding that challenges the belief of most health professionals - that ED is primarily a physical issue relating to a mal or under functioning circulatory system, and that psychological factors such as depression account for just 10 to 20% of the problem.

Are we thus to believe that males with higher-earning wives are depressed?

The recently released results of a 9 year study found that men whose wives had an income exceeding theirs were significantly more likely to have a Viagra prescription. According to the study's author, “When women out-earn their husbands, it challenges the traditional social norms of the man as economic provider,” Thus, it’s possible the subsequent ED is because of depression, but it may also be related to a loss of self-esteem.

Another finding from the study was this: wives with bigger paychecks were more likely to suffer from insomnia and to take anti-anxiety medications. But these effects didn’t hold true for unmarried couples or for men who had earned less than their wives before marriage.

Can Love Survive?

It’s realistic to ask, therefore, if love can thrive in relationships where women are the primary earners. In some relationships, the answer is yes, but it ultimately depends on both partners and how far they’re willing to go to ensure they stay together. The problem in part is that breadwinner wives can be secretly frustrated and disrespectful if their partners don’t match their hunger and earning power.

You might blame this on age-old relationship expectations, in which successful men are often happy to marry women who are less ambitious, but successful women want to marry their economic equals. As more women out-earn men, both can struggle to find a sense of identity. In other words, our emotions and expectations haven’t caught up to the changes in our economic lives.

Perceived Gender Roles

Moreover, the perception of traditional male and female roles hasn’t changed. While most women work – and attitudes have moved on so that working women don’t expect to be ‘kept’ - our personal lives are still defined by the experiences with which we grew up. And men historically derived their sense of self from providing for families. Women, similarly, were identified by their success in running homes and raising children.

But a rise in the number of females entering such professions as medicine and law, where they today actually outnumber men, means women have more earning potential. When combined with unemployment figures that reveal the number of men losing their jobs in such ‘male’ sectors as construction, finance, and manufacturing, men are inadvertently forced to supplement their wives’ incomes rather than lead them.

This incomplete revolution means the rest of our lives need to catch up to female achievements in the workplace. In the past 40 years, it’s been all about women entering the workforce, boosting the economy, and helping men pay for family needs. The next 40, however, will be spent dealing with the social, personal, and family consequences of women’s unexpected success.


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1 Comment

  • Claire, I feel like your article completely ignored some of the other factors involved with relationship dynamics. The big one in my mind is, in the context of male/female relationships, how men raising children versus men with no children feel. I know some opposite-gender couples whose male half is perfectly fine filling the caregiver role for their child(ren) while the female half brings the main source of income.

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