Two Jobs, Dueling Incomes
Ellen and Alex live pretty well. They take vacations when they want, eat out regularly, and they just bought their first house in an affluent Boston suburb.Skip to next paragraph
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And Ellen gets most of the credit for making a comfortable lifestyle affordable.
She earns twice as much, in her job as management consultant, as her husband.
And it doesn't seem to bother him a bit.
"I'm actually surprised at how easy it's been for me, because I was raised in Mexico - and that's a very male-oriented society," says Alex, a graphic designer.
"It would be different if there was any pressure from her family," he says, "or they made comments about it."
Today, more women than ever before earn more than their husbands.
Yet a woman earning more can alter a couple's relationship at home.
Society's stereotypes are hard - particularly for men. While men appreciate the added income and freedom to pursue alternative career opportunities, they have a tough time knowing - and knowing that others might know - that their wives make most of the money.
Many couples either shun any conversation about the topic or don't want their names in print if they do.
"[Men] like it in the short run. It may mean more economic security," says Thomas Nowak, a sociology professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "But there still are quite a few guys who have difficulty with women who out-earn them."
More women earning more
It's an issue facing more couples today. In dual-income families, 22 percent of wives out-earn their husbands, up from 18 percent in 1987, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that's up from 4.4 percent in 1970.
In addition, more women are primary providers for longer periods of time, research finds.
The trend isn't all that surprising. A growing number of women work in high-paying fields such as law and medicine or hold positions in top management; and the wage gap between men and women is closing.
A 1996 survey by New York-based Catalyst found that 75 percent of senior-level women executives are the primary breadwinners of their families.
For example, the title on the door of Ellen Kullman's office at DuPont reads vice president, which means both a rank and paycheck that tops her husband's, who is a manager in the company's Teflon business.
"Since it's pretty apparent publicly that I earn more than he does because we work for the same company and our titles are very different, it's never been an issue, really," says Ms. Kullman.
"When we got married we only had debt," she says. "So as we've gone forward, everything is pretty much in joint accounts.
"We discuss how we choose to save, invest, and spend our income, but I don't ever remember an issue ... of mine versus his."
Downsizing is also a factor. As men have lost their jobs or taken lower-paying positions, more wives have become the primary breadwinners.
Modeling a new role
Several factors affect men's response to the role reversal.
Social psychologists have found that when a woman earns only slightly more than her husband, he often doesn't acknowledge the difference. He may even think of their incomes as equal.
The husband's current career status also plays a role.