What happens when a wife earns more?

Are these couples happier?
Written by Audrey Quinn, Contributor

My partner is an engineer, and I'm a freelance journalist. When it comes to our income ratio, enough said, he makes more than I do. We joke about the day when I'm somehow the breadwinner of the duo. But for an increasing number of couples, that "sugar momma" fancy is a reality.

Hanna Rosin reports today in Slate on a study she conducted with couples where the wife makes more money. She writes:

For much of history, the mark of an enviable woman has been her ability to secure a superior match, through her beauty, cleverness, or artful deception. After civil rights, that expectation mellowed into something called “homogamy,” meaning women marrying men of equal money and education. But that happy place of equilibrium seems to be fading as well. Instead, women have started doing something demographers thought they would never see: they are marrying down, not just in the United States but all over the world.

Rosin points out that women are now more likely to have a college degree than men on every continent besides Africa, necessitating that Jane Austen concept of "marrying down" in education level. Wives now lead in income in about forty percent of American marriages.

This set-up strays from the relationship dynamics many of us grew up with, and while there can be pride in such pioneering, society expects at least a few subtle repurcussions for those who rock the boat. Fortunately, at least for the female-breadwinner couples Rosin surveyed, these are overwhelmingly happy marriages.

They're also farily equitable in power.

One thing Rosin didn't see however, was flip in traditional household duties when the woman earns more. Only about a quarter of husbands take an extra share of work around the home when their wife contributes more to the couple's income.

Rather than feeling empowered by their income, many of these women told Rosin they just felt more burdened:

Over the last 30 years, women have started to work considerably more hours than they once did, without easing off on child care. In fact, the opposite has happened. In 1965 women reported doing an average of 9.3 hours of paid work a week and 10.2 hours of child care. Now women not only do an average of 23.2 hours of paid work a week, but they do more child care—13.9 hours, according to the latest American Time Use survey.[...] Mostly what the time-use surveys confirm—for the United States and many other Western countries—is a vision of every woman as a slowly expanding colonial empire, failing to cede old territories as she conquers new ones—either because she doesn’t want to or has just fallen into the habit of doing too much. Or more likely, because men don’t yet pick up enough of the domestic slack.

That remaining inequality is to be expected, I'd argue. Most women don't choose to make more than their husbands, it's just what happened. Doing more work around the house is typically a conscious choice for husbands, and changes made by conscious choice rather than necesity can take much longer to manifest. But let's hope they do, I don't think Rosin's "woman as a slowly expanding colonial empire" sounds like a healthy future for anyone.

[via Slate]

Photo: Ray_from_LA/Flickr

Graphs: Hannah Rosin/Slate

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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