Did you know that 4 out of 10 wives earn more than their husbands? I had no idea. I thought our family was just a small minority. However, female breadwinners are a growing trend and all of us will have to adjust to the new reality. Changes can be difficult especially when it comes to traditional gender roles like being the primary income earner of the family. I didn’t think this is such a big issue, but it seems many couples are struggling with this adjustment. Researchers have shown that marriages can turn unhappy when the wife earns more than the husband. Divorce rates increase, men are more likely to cheat, and women feel more stressed out (increased consumption of anti-anxiety and sleeping pills). That’s not good news…
I’m wondering if the media is magnifying the negative side of this trend. Mrs. RB40 is making more money than me now and our family is doing just fine. I made more than Mrs. RB40 for the first 15 years, but she’s making about twice as much as I do since I quit my engineering career. Is the income disparity destroying our relationship without us knowing it? I don’t think so, but let’s go through some issues other families are struggling with.
Let’s start with an easy one. We all know that women spend more time on housework than men, almost an hour more per day. This gap actually grows when the woman is the primary earner. That doesn’t sound fair. Why does the wife have to do more chores when she makes more money? Researchers don’t know why this happens, but some people think women are trying to help the husband feel better about being out earned. Hmm… I don’t know about that.
Mrs. RB40 definitely does more housework that I do. Whenever she goes on a business trip, our home quickly devolves into a messy bachelor pad. The toys invade all walkable space, the dishes pile up in the sink until we run out of clean plates, and the hampers overflow with dirty clothes. We clean up as much as we can the day before she comes home. Of course, we miss a few things, but that shows her we need her, right? 🙂 Us guys just have a higher tolerance for messiness.
Anyway, I think I do more chores now than when I was working full time. Let’s see.
- Cooking: I cook most of our meals these days. Mrs. RB40 likes to cook, too, but she takes a long time to make a meal so she usually cooks something on the weekend. My meals are much quicker so I cook almost every weekday.
- Dishes: Mrs. RB40 does the dishes at the end of the day. It’s part of her unwinding ritual.
- Vacuum: I vacuum and sweep every couple of days. Mrs. RB40 occasionally vacuums on the weekend when she feels the place needs it.
- Bathroom cleaning: I usually scrub the sink and toilet once every couple of weeks.
- Cat litter box: Mrs. RB40 deals with this one.
- Dusting: Mrs. RB40 dusts once in a while. I rarely dusted when I was single and haven’t done it for years…
- Laundry: Mrs. RB40 usually does most the laundry. Occasionally I’d do the laundry if I run out of underwear. I’d say 80:20.
- Car: I take care of the car. Is this part of the chores?
- Unnecessary chores: Yesterday, I went grocery shopping and stuffed a bunch of plastic bags into their storage place. Later that day, Mrs. RB40 proceeded to take all the bags out, folded them up nicely, and put them back. She does quite a few of these “unnecessary “chores.
Actually, I think we’re almost even. I’m sure I do more housework now than when I was working full time. Periodically, she will be do a deep cleaning. The dust seems to bother her more than it does me. Overall, it seems to be working pretty well for us. I think that’s partly due to the fact that we live in a 950 sq feet condo. There are just fewer chores to do than in a larger house.
Money equals power. When a woman makes more, she has more power in a relationship. I think that’s a good thing, but it can wreak havoc if the relationship is not strong. For example, a woman breadwinner can reassess her man and see if she’s really happy with him. This might be the cause of the higher divorce rates. Previously, a lot of women probably had to stay in a relationship they weren’t happy with because it would have been more difficult to support themselves. It’s easier to call it quit when you’re the primary breadwinner. I read that men are reluctant to ask for alimony so that makes it even easier to separate.
Also, if the wife makes more income than their husband, this could create an issue with respect. She might be unhappy about the husband spending her money frivolously. Or she’ll wonder why the husband can’t pull his weight and earn more money. This seems to be a big issue for women in high power jobs.
I think we’re okay here, but I’ll let Mrs. RB40 comment in this section.
Mrs. RB40> When Joe first announced he was going to quit his job, I was furious and worried about maintaining our lifestyle. I didn’t realize back then how much he was going to end up working on this blog. I think if he didn’t have this blog or his other side businesses, I would wonder about his contribution toward the household, even if he took care of our son full time.
What about when men lose their traditional role as the breadwinner? That’s the traditional gender role and nobody likes losing what they had. Surprisingly, I don’t have any problem with this at all. I outearned Mrs. RB40 for 15 years so it’s only fair for her to make more than me for a while. I don’t know why other men have such a huge problem with this. Isn’t this the 21st century?
However, we have some big financial advantages over other families. We don’t have any consumer debt. We live modestly so we are comfortable with our cash flow every month. We can save for retirement, save for RB40Jr’s college education, and still live a comfortable lifestyle. We are financially independent and we don’t have to worry about money that much. I think that has a huge impact on how we view our situation.
Lastly, I’m the household CFO and I deal with all our stocks, bonds, rentals, P2P lending, and other investments. That’s a big responsibility and Mrs. RB40 recognizes that. The husband can contribute in ways other than earning income.
Another big issue is children. Even when the wife is the breadwinner, she is usually the primary caretaker for the kids. She’d have to schedule playdates, take kids to doctor, and tuck the kids in. This might be the case for a couple where both partners have full time jobs, but I doubt it’s true with a stay at home dad. I’m the primary caretaker for our kid and I think most stay at home dads are the same way. Mrs. RB40 spends as much time as she can with our kid, but I just have more time because I don’t have to go to the office.
RB40Jr was very attached to me when he was younger. This created a little resentment, but we’re over that phase now. Jr. loves his mom and he’s always very happy to see her when she comes home from work.
Mrs. RB40 got to spend a lot of time with Jr. during our Costa Rica trip and that was great. However, at the end of the trip, RB40Jr was telling her to go to work. He told her, “I love you, but seeing you all day is too much!” His reason was because he will miss her and appreciate her more when she gets home at the end of the day. That’s a pretty interesting way to look at it.
I think our arrangement now is a great fit for our family. Mrs. RB40 can be an adult at work and she can relax with Jr. when she’s home. She can’t really handle being a stay at home mom. That’s just not who she is.
We are doing fine
It’s been 3 years since Mrs. RB40 makes more money than I do. We are doing quite well and I don’t think that will change. It seems like everything is clicking for us to avoid problems that could arise from Mrs. RB40 earning more. Here are the most important factors.
- Choice – I chose early retirement and I knew Mrs. RB40 would make more money than I do. Families that choose to have the woman as the primary earner usually deal with the challenges better. The couple that falls into this trend without planning have a much more difficult time accepting the change.
- Solid marriage – We have been married for over 15 years and have known each other for 20 years. We are very comfortable with each other and we have a solid marriage.
- Financial Independence – Our finance is solid. One definition of financial independence is having 25 times your annual expense. We have achieved that and we don’t have a lot of financial worries. Neither of us would feel comfortable with me being a stay at home dad if we have to depend solely on Mrs. RB40’s income.
- Partnership – We always work together toward similar goals. We make important decisions as a team and we respect each other.
We are comfortable with Mrs. RB40 being the primary income earner for these reasons. Of course, she has seen how much my lifestyle has improved since I retired and now she wants it, too. We’re working on it and hopefully she can retire by 2020. Then I’ll be making more money than her again. 😉
Image Credit: Flickr by rkobes
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