≡ Menu

What Happens When Your Wife Earns More Than You?

{ 29 comments }

What happens when your wife earns more than you?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.

Housework

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.  

Women Power

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.

Male Insecurity

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?  

women breadwinner makes more money than husband

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.    

Children

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

The following two tabs change content below.
Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

Latest posts by retirebyforty (see all)

Get update via email:
Sign up to receive new articles via email
We hate spam just as much as you
{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Gwen April 18, 2016, 10:57 am

    This is the one downside to dating I’ve found so far. I’ve lost a few relationships to the income disparity when guys just couldn’t handle me making more than them. Nevermind I save most of the difference and have roughly the same spending money. They hear a number and can’t reconcile it. Now I tend to stay away from guys in lower income jobs because I don’t want to open myself up to the heartache again. Of course, then I also have to weed out the guys who want a suga momma. Dating is rough

    • retirebyforty April 18, 2016, 12:08 pm

      Really? Thanks for sharing. Yeah, you probably should avoid guys with lower income. You’re shooting for FIRE and a lower income partner isn’t going to be very helpful. Life is strange, though. 🙂

  • SC November 13, 2015, 3:12 pm

    What’s not mentioned is that there is a huge difference between these two scenarios:
    1) Husband makes more than the wife for a number of years and then makes less.
    2) Husband never makes more than the wife.
    Scenario 1) is much more workable than scenario 2). RB40 is blithely underestimating the psychological boost he gets from knowing that he has outearned his wife for several years (and by implication, could do so again, if he chose). “Oh, I don’t understand these guys who can’t just get over it.” Naturally, RB40–you have bragging rights and the sense of dominance that comes from having earned more first. Talk to the men who have never made more. They’re the ones who really have to contend with … a lot.

    • retirebyforty November 13, 2015, 10:20 pm

      I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to outearn my wife at this point. You are right about the psychological impact, though. I feel secure because I worked longer than she did and contributed more toward our wealth. Thanks for your comment. I could see that #2 would be tough.

      • Karla April 17, 2016, 11:28 pm

        Hum, my husband has always earned less than me and right now I earn 3x him and I don’t expect he’d out earn me until I retire. And even then, my own individual retirement savings might out earn him. A sense of dominance? Men who earn less the entire time have to contend with a lot? 18+ yrs of marriage and a husband who doesn’t see money as a way to define himself or his contribution to our marriage.

  • MoneySheep October 17, 2015, 12:38 pm

    About Male Insecurity, I just read this morning, it is more than income:
    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-smart-women-may-threaten-your-manhood-2015-10-16

  • DP @ Someday Extraordinary October 16, 2015, 7:27 am

    I would honestly have no problem with it at all. I say, more power to you! Who cares where the money comes from . . . put the ego aside for a while.

    I also think, as a male, it matters what you’ve done with your life. If you are proud of your accomplishments, then you have no reason to feel insecure if you are out earned.

    I look at the Clinton’s and wonder what would happen if Hillary gets elected. Bill has been there and done that. No insecurity on his level. Same with financials. If you’re happy about what you’ve accomplished, don’t be bothered by what your significant other does. In fact, encourage it! You’re both in this together!

    -DP

    • retirebyforty October 16, 2015, 10:58 am

      Right! As long as you’re working as a team, it shouldn’t be any problem. You won’t know until you’re in that situation, though.

  • Mr. Retire by 35 October 14, 2015, 11:55 am

    This is one of the things I believe the Mrs. and I will eventually come to in our careers as engineers. She has more charisma and drive to go far, whereas I am less interested in advancing (other than to get paid more!). I did not know this was the case in 40% of relationships!

    -Mr. RB35

  • Jacob @ The Fire Guy October 13, 2015, 9:02 pm

    If one & their partner is truly a team, income disparity shouldn’t be an issue. What’s mine is my wife’s and vice-versa. I think conversations like this add fuel to their fire that women don’t make as much as men for the same job. Everything is a balance – obviously if one spouse works full-time and the other is at home, they should have more of the chore responsibilities.

    For my wife & I, we both work full-time, but she works nights 3-4 times a week, so we have an
    agreement that I do dishes and clean on days she works and she does dishes and clean on other days. Little agreements like this definitely go a long way in keeping peace and balance.

  • Andy October 13, 2015, 12:51 pm

    No offense, and I’m sure you have a great marriage, but it always worries me when someone says they have a “solid marriage.”

  • Vivianne October 12, 2015, 7:58 pm

    My Mum made more than my Dad, and we are talking about the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. 6 decades of my Mum out-earned my Dad. Of course, I’d follow the trend, I also out-earned Mr.WRI. Even though, he holds a higher position at our hospital, but he’s been there for so long that the inflation outpace his pay raise. He needs to move in order to make more than me.

    As far as respect, it’d take much more than making more money to gain respect from somebody. Money isn’t everything – knowledge, wisdom, genuine, nice, kind, etc. all of these quality that actually earn respect.

  • CL October 12, 2015, 3:10 pm

    Men think of a lot of the things that women do as ‘unnecessary chores.’ But in her head, they need to be done. I imagine that you spend a lot more time in the house, but I’m sure your lovely wife feels like she does a lot, too. When she retires, there’ll be another adjustment period.

  • Bryan @ Just One More Year October 12, 2015, 2:02 pm

    I am actually looking forward to the day where my wife makes more money than me. That means I left my employer! 🙂

    I think potentially for us she may end stopping work before I do. So I say I would be OK making less than my wife, yet I have never experienced that situation. I guess I have to get back to you on that…..

  • nicoleandmaggie October 12, 2015, 1:25 pm

    We’ve gone both ways. Right now our nominal salaries are almost identical but I’m on half-pay for the year, so I guess technically he’s making 2x as much as I am this year, but the last time we did this leave thing he was making nothing and I was making my full salary.

    I will say that since our income is (usually) so much more than we spend, the differences between our individual salaries has never been a big deal. However, when DH was unemployed and I was the sole breadwinner, there was a lot more stress on me monetarily and I wanted to do fewer chores, especially the mental deciding chores, at home. I felt more driven at work and less able to do 50% at home. That’s not the case when I’m not worried that we’re going to spend more than we earn long-term or that we’re going to run out of our emergency fund.

  • middle class October 12, 2015, 12:08 pm

    It’s interesting to hear a guy’s take on this question. I’ve seen it addressed mainly by female bloggers. It seems that many women have a tough time with this imbalance even if the person is very independent and values equality of the sexes. I truly think that women who earn more (or all) income should NOT expect the SAH-dad to also bring in income. Not sure about SAH-husband w/o kids. Anyway, men have been supporting wives for ages. At the same time, it’s really important for both to value at-home work. If the stay-at-home spouse were to die, there would be major financial implications as well.

    That’s not to say issues don’t arise, primarily due to different expectations of childcare and cleanliness. For example, I have to clean the toilet weekly! It’s interesting to read about other household’s chore breakdown. I would expect the man to do the laundry more often so that it doesn’t pile up as a weekend or weeknight chore. In our household, we’re about 60/40 in terms of running the washer and dryer, but I still put the kids and my own clothes away. I let my husband pile his up if he wants to. When I come home, I’d rather do kid-related “chores” such as baths, than non-kid related stuff.

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 10:29 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I’m just not as tidy as my wife. I’m sure once she retires, our home will be much cleaner. I just threw a load of laundry in, BTW. 🙂
      SAH-husband w/o kids probably won’t work out. That’s just a gigolo, right?

  • Mike Drak October 12, 2015, 8:36 am

    Great question! When I bailed on my 36 yr corporate gig my wife became the primary breadwinner and will be during the transition period while I finish up the book I’ve been working on. It’s meant a re-balancing of sorts but if you have respect for each other and view marriage as an equal partnership things will work out. Does it really matter who makes more as long as you both are enjoying life and remain excited about your future together? You comment about women doing more housework even if they earn more is true in our case. Funny why that happens, maybe I still need to make some more adjustments on my side.

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 12:49 pm

      I think at your age, it’s just temporary until your wife retires, right? As long as life is great, I don’t see why it matters who earn more. I guess some people are just stuck in their traditional mindset.

  • phr3dly October 12, 2015, 8:26 am

    My wife and I are both engineers at your old company. We’re both “successful” so far as that goes, but she earns about double what I do. (In a good year, more than double). We joke about it a little, but it has never been an issue. I think this shows what an amazing person she is.

    We share the household chores about 50/50. While she may cook a little more than I, I take care of the finances.

    That said, The Company recently offered many of us the opportunity to take a severance package. For me it would have been nearly a 6-figure sum. Not enough to make me leave, but enough to make me consider the implications. I decided that while it didn’t bother me to earn less than my wife, it would bother me to potentially earn nothing. We don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t be a stay-at-home father, I’d be a stay-at-home… husband? Yes, I’d find something to do to fill the time, but it certainly wouldn’t be a $200k/year something.

    And while our marriage is very solid, I am a realist and I know that things can go wrong in even the best relationship. Being unable to afford my lifestyle without my wife’s salary would make me feel vulnerable. Right now if something happened to us, we’d both be absolutely fine.

    For that reason (and others), it’s important to both of us that we both contribute financially in a meaningful way to the household finances. But the balance of income? Not an issue at all.

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 12:48 pm

      It would bother me too if we didn’t have a kid. I wouldn’t be able to be a trophy hubby.
      It’s great that you don’t have any problem with your wife earning more. I think the media focus on the negative too much. Most households are probably just as happy for the wife to earn more. Thanks for your input.

  • Justin October 12, 2015, 7:39 am

    I love having a wife that earns more than me! Most of our careers my salary outpaced hers, but she caught up with me right before I quit working. Since I’m retired and only earn a fraction of what I used to, the wife is making significantly more than me. And that’s okay – it’s her turn to shine and “bring home the bacon” (though I’m the one that does 90% of grocery shopping… 🙂 ).

    As far as household responsibilities, I try to do everything I can around the house, but there’s a few things that slip through the cracks like folding laundry and putting it away (but I’m getting better here with much effort!). I’m the errand guy, household CFO, tax accountant, attorney, etc.

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 12:45 pm

      I love it too. 🙂 It’s only fair for the wives to shine too. I don’t want to hog the spotlight.
      Good job with the household chores. I tried to do everything when I became a SAHD, but it didn’t work. Now I just do the best I can. It’s working well so we’re happy with it.

  • Meghan October 12, 2015, 7:08 am

    Hello Joe! This is an excellent topic. I am making about 120,000 right now and my husband is active duty and makes between 60,000 to 80,000. His salary changes based on deployments and tax free time out of the country. People are always asking him how he feels that his wife earns more. He DOES NOT CARE! He sees us as a unit, so if I’m making more, he’s making more. Also, from my perspective, he has excellent benefits through the military. I get my health care and life insurance from him so it is not deducted from my salary. We see it as a win-win! 🙂 Great article! Keep up the good work.

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 12:44 pm

      It’s great that your husband is secure enough to not care. A family works best as a unit. Thank you to your husband for protecting our country.

  • Kate @ Cashville Skyline October 12, 2015, 5:52 am

    Interesting post, Joe! Farnoosh Torabi wrote a book that addresses this topic. And I spoken to a lot of female bloggers who out earn their male partners. As you’ve mentioned, it all goes back to the security of the relationship and the man’s personal sense of self-confidence. I’m not in this situation. But I wonder how it would affect my relationship if I earn more in the future.

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 12:42 pm

      Mrs. RB40 read Farnoosh’s book, but I haven’t had a chance yet. I forgot to mention it at the end of the article. I’ll add it now. 🙂
      It’s sounds simple, but it can be really tricky. Both of you have to be very secure in your relationship. Good luck!

  • Michael @ Financially Alert October 12, 2015, 1:33 am

    Wow Joe, this hits right home for me… literally! After selling my company I worked with the acquiring company for a year and a half. It didn’t work. Instead, I negotiated a 6-month severance and headed home to be Stay-At-Home Dad (my daughter was 1.5 and my son would be born a year later). I don’t regret this decision by any means, but it did flip things upside down a bit with my wife.

    Once my severance was up, she instantly became the primary breadwinner. I was the new stay-at-home Dad who got to “play all day” with the kids. As you know Joe, the “playing” is actually very hard work! But the idea did create a little resentment from my wife, which we’ve subsequently worked through.

    This scenario would NOT have worked out well if my wife wasn’t SUPER amazing and understanding, or we needed the extra income. A good system of balance is the key. We both share meal prep, I typically wash up the dishes, she showers and gets the kids ready for bed, and we both put them down to bed together. This allows her the ability to work, but still provide for our children in a maternal manner at home. And like you, I still manage our finances which gives me a paternal sense of contribution. 🙂

    • retirebyforty October 12, 2015, 12:41 pm

      Not needing the extra income is the key to making it work. You also need to work together as a unit. Your wife really is amazing. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.