When She Makes More

By Linda N. 

The state of employment in the United States of America’s Pre-COVID 19 is a far cry from what it has become in over ten months. According to a report by Amara Omeokwe in the Wall Street Journal (2020), in early 2020, women constituted more than half the workforce, with over 40% as breadwinners. Unfortunately, since the global pandemic, all this gain became derailed, a situation the world bank reportedly described as one similar to the Great Depression of the early 1930s. The pandemic triggered a huge economic crisis characterized by workers’ furloughing, small business closures, massive job loss, and colossal unemployment claims.

Despite all these, there are fewer jobs, which positions women to remain breadwinners, especially if their partners lost their job during the crisis. Here is Leon and Natalia Haines’s story, who, for most of the five years of their marriage, Mrs. Haines has been the primary breadwinner. Barely out of college, she started a career in I.T. Mr. Haines took a less direct path, first working as a salesperson, then moving on to a job as a media expert, and there were months-on-end when he couldn’t contribute financially. During such periods, Natalia created a stable financial base for the family, sprinkled with days of frustrations and inexplicable passive-aggressive behavior from both parties.

Sometimes, women have jobs that enable them to earn more than their partners. In a recent report by the Business Insider, findings from analyzing a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey revealed that women earn more than men in specialized occupations like proofreaders, health social workers, automotive body repair and technical services. A famous comedian once joked about making more money than her husband as a stand-up comedian. She shared that her mother became concerned that her husband will leave her out of fear. She responded that “only men who don’t like free money would leave a woman because she earns more than him.” While this line of joke evokes laughter or sometimes dismissal at a gathering, in private, it is a topic that creates a lot of tension in the family. It can play a significant role in influencing a relationship’s health status because of who earns more links to the broader topic of gender dynamics and inequality. Another celebrity recalled feeling bewildered when she experienced first-hand the disparaging feelings that accompany such comments. In a recent statement, popular actress and producer Reese Witherspoon recalled an incident at the 2002 Oscars when her now ex-husband, Ryan Phillippe, made a seemingly joke about her ‘earning more than he did’ during their presentation of an award.

“There are so few women that make a lot of money that sometimes they’re shamed for it, and sometimes they are expected to give more and do more and be more to others in the same position that may be a male movie star may not be expected,” she added. “But I do think gender norms have changed quite a bit since that moment in 2000 or something.”

Several studies were conducted to understand the concept.

Case Study

Over the years, when women earn more, specific challenges arise, resulting in failed relationships, divorce, etc. It is worth mentioning that theoretical evidence on how marital relationships affect financial inequalities remain ambivalent. A 2015 study by the University of Chicago reported more significant strife and likelihood to break up between opposite-sex couples. The study also revealed a pattern of over-compensation where women earn more than their partners. These higher-earning women took on more housework as a form of salve to their partner’s ego for financial status. In the podcast interview, Reese Witherspoon confirmed that women like her who have achieved financial success face additional obstacle bothering on shame, with higher expectations to give, do, and be more in many ways than males in a similar position.

In a 2015 study carried out by two researchers and detailed in a report by the Census Bureau, Close M. M-C and Heggeness M.L used the term ‘manning-up or womaning down’ to describe the conscious or unconscious decision by couples in an opposite-sex relationship’, to report earning more and earning less. The men reported an average of 2.9% increase, and the woman said a lesser earning average of 1.5% to the U.S. Census Bureau. The researchers concluded that social norms affect the perception of their desirability. In an article by the New York Times, a Harvard sociology professor, Alexandra Killewald, revealed that certain beliefs about gender roles and earnings have remained over time – the notion that men are providers, while the idea that women are homemakers have become less popular over time.

According to the report findings 2017 Pew Research Center survey, almost a third of women living with or married to a man contribute to part of their earnings. The same study revealed that most of the respondents said it is essential for a man to support his family, while they did not have the same expectation of the female. Experts in the field, such as financial advisers and therapists like Dr. Dawn Delavallade, a physician, author, and therapist, who wrote the book – She makes More, inside the mind of female breadwinners, propose ways to manage this new phenomenon among Americans. For a new concept, relevant resources are essential to help women in similar circumstances navigate this emerging trail, which results in high divorce rates, resentment, heartbreak, mistrust.

Suggestions for management include: 

  1. Managing expectations: Address financial assumptions and roles in all relationships between couples by presenting, discussing, and agreeing. Otherwise, it becomes the elephant in the room and causes unimaginable problems. However, when approached, expect some level of discomfort to address the issue regardless.
  2. Share responsibilities: Relationships where couples share all aspects of duties’ fairly’ are more healthy and less prone to a break-up. In a New York Times report, Associate Professor in Kansas State University, Sonya Britt-Lutter, recommended in her program, making a list of duties and assigning responsibilities, discuss possible changes and scenarios (risks and assumptions) and review annually to accommodate needs and changes.
  3. Share goals but retain some level of independence: Agree on primary financial goals that both parties will contribute towards and allow each other to maintain some finances that each person can use as they deem appropriate without questioning from the partner. That way, both parties feel heard, and resentment does not build over time. A few experts recommend that couples decide on a dollar threshold that requires both parties’ input before spending. Research shows that regardless of who the breadwinner is, making financial decisions without a partner’s input often results in conflicts.

Beyond these necessary steps, couples must seek the services of experts who specializes in working with breadwinners, helping them manage their relationships through the process of soul-searching, understanding their partners’ needs, and dealing with toxic behavior that destroys their relationships. 

If all fails, consider Witherspoon’s advice about a story about how her daughter once came home from second grade in tears over a comment about money. Witherspoon said Ava felt “so embarrassed” at the time when classmates brought up the fact that her mother was one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood.

“I said, ‘Don’t ever feel ashamed of a woman making money.’ There are women all over this world who don’t have an opportunity or education or the ability to make money,” said Witherspoon, who is also mom to 8-year-old son Tennessee with husband, Jim Toth. “And the more women who make more money will give more money away, will take care of their societies, will take care of their communities, will do more with that money. So don’t ever feel bad about your mom making money, and don’t ever feel bad if you make money, and don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if it’s more than your partner.”

“[I have] an interesting relationship with the word power,” she continued. “I just hope in my lifetime, I can help more women make more money. Financial stability is freedom.”

Go get yours, woman!

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