When the Wife Earns More than the Husband

I heard this morning on the Today show about a book that sounds interesting, Bringing Home the Bacon: Making Marriage Work When She Makes More Money. I haven’t read the book, so I’m writing based strictly on the little information I have about it from the interview. The authors quote research indicating that wives out-earn husbands in about 1/3 of marriages. That’s a tad higher than I would have guessed from my anecdotal observation of couples in my office, but only a tad higher.

Power flows from money in marriages just like in other aspects of life. For generations, men have been accustomed to having the power in marriage. He earns the money (or most of it), and she does the home duties (or most of them). How do husbands and wives adjust when her economic power exceeds his? Do they shift roles, or does she continue exercising all the traditional duties of a wife and mother while maintaining her high powered career? These are subtle questions of power, role, and equality, of course, but they are also questions of what it means to be masculine, what it means to be feminine.

In this morning’s interview, one of the authors, Harriet Pappenheim, described the role of a typical working mother. She takes her cell phone to work and has it by her side, even during important meetings. In the middle of a conference or critical assignment, she gets a call from the school telling her that her child is sick, so she breaks away from work, leaving her work responsibilities unfulfilled. She rushes to the school, calling potential babysitters (including her husband) on the way to see who can take care of her child once she gets him home.

Once he’s secured at home, she rushes back to work, feeling guilty for leaving her sick child and guilty for dropping the ball on her work assignments. She stays late to make up for the time she was away from the office, and then drags home. Dad walks in and asks, “How can I help?” and is bewildered when she bursts into tears.

As Pappenheim describes it, Dad is clueless. He’s failing to understand that she doesn’t need a helper; she needs a partner. She doesn’t need simply a person who will perform assigned tasks on her direction. She needs someone who will lift from her and discharge some of her responsibilities.

Sounds like interesting reading.