To some the concept of a female breadwinner will feel like a contradiction in terms. For others, it will look like a great leap forward, more progress toward gender equity.
And yet, forewarned is forearmed. Couples who believe that the breadwinner’s gender doesn’t matter should examine the evidence before jumping into the feminist dreamworld.
That is the message from Susan Adams, a woman who became her family breadwinner by chance and not by choice. And that is the message from Farnoosh Tornabi, whose new book tries to help women cope with the problems that this role reversal seems inevitably to produce.
To date, the evidence suggests that when a woman becomes the breadwinner conjugal bliss declines markedly. The new gender-neutral lifestyle seems like a formula for permanent misery.
That is to say, it’s a problem that needs to be managed, not a step toward nirvana.
Adams summarizes the downside of female breadwinning:
A 2010 Cornell study found that among 18- 28-year-old married and cohabiting couples who had been together for more than a year, men who were totally dependent on women’s salaries were five times more likely to cheat than men who earned the same as their partners. Other studies show that when women earn more, they wind up taking on more, not less of the housework and childcare. A 2013 study by a professor at Washington University’s Olin Business School in St. Louis who collaborated with some Danish colleagues revealed that in relationships where women made slightly more than their spouses, men were 10% more likely to need prescription medication for erectile dysfunction, insomnia and anxiety, and the greater the income gap, the more problems men had with ED. Torabi conducted her own survey of 1,033 professional women and found that the women who made more than their partners reported less relationship satisfaction and more embarrassment about how much they made compared to their spouse than the women who earned less.
The message comes across clearly: female breadwinners do not intend to unman their husbands… but, the skewed division of labor does just that.
She quotes a relationship coach named Alison Armstrong who insists that men need to think of themselves as providers, even if they aren’t bringing in money. We emasculate men by criticizing, complaining and taking over tasks they’re capable of doing and we cling to the idea that we can change them. We think that earning money comes with veto power over decisions. “If a woman thinks that the power should follow the money, she’s in deep trouble,” writes Torabi. All very interesting.
Of course, advanced feminist thinkers deride the notion of male pride. Adams and Torabi state clearly that failing to deal with it will cause more trouble than you imagine.
But, Adams and Torabi are not just trying to warn young women of the perils of gender-bending. They are trying to help women who find themselves in this situation.
They suggest that even when a woman makes all of the income, she would do well to grant her husband decision-making power. She should not make family finance decisions unilaterally.
Come to think of it, it’s not a bad idea for a male breadwinner to include his wife in decision-making that affects family finance.
For these women a lot of it seems to come down to sex. Not so much because they are obsessed with sex, but because they understand that emasculating your husband is not a formula for marital bliss.
Here Torabi has a more constructive solution: Even if the woman is paying for everything, she shouldn’t feel entitled to make financial decisions alone. “In addition to wounding your man emotionally, it can affect how much you respect him and are even attracted to him (not to mention whether you feel like it’s your duty to take care of his sexual needs as well as his financial ones). She recalls the blunt statement made by one breadwinning woman in New York magazine: “I’m not going to pay the bills and then come home and suck his dick.”