Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance expert, author, TV personality, and sought-after speaker whose mission is to help people take control of their finances so they can live their richest, happiest lives. She is a contributing editor at MoneyMagazine and frequent contributor to DailyWorth, Yahoo! and The Today Show. Her latest book is “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.”
I recently connected with Torabi to talk about what happens when Millennial women make more money than their husbands. Here’s what she had to say.
How many (or what percent) of American women are breadwinners today? How do the numbers break down between the generations — Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers?
The most recent data from Pew find that 24 percent of married women today make more than their husbands, up from just 6 percent in the 1960’s. When you factor in single moms, 40 percent of women are the breadwinners or sole providers in their families. It’s not clear how this breaks down per generation, but it is true that in most major metropolitan areas in this country, single women under the age of 30 have a higher median income than men under the age of 30.
In the Millennial generation more women are graduating from college, and in the recession women fared better than men. How has that affected the number of Millennial women who are breadwinners in their marriages and how is it affecting those marriages?
Millennial women are definitely more equipped in some ways to earn a higher paycheck than their male counterparts due to a greater number attaining advanced degrees and getting hired. As I mentioned, in major cities single young women are earning more than single young men. And when you scan the entire country you’ll see that the wage gap between Millennial women (ages 25 to 34) and men is actually narrower (93 percent) than the national average (84 percent), according to Pew.
When it comes to marriage, it can be challenging for young women to find their so-called “equal” in terms of schooling and income. But relative to other generations Millennials are, perhaps, more prepared to be in a relationship with a female breadwinner and more accepting of it. They may have grown up with fewer gender stereotypes and given the current economic landscape and the rise of women in academia and professional fields, it should not come as much of a surprise to the younger generation.
Why do people still feel uncomfortable about women being breadwinners in relationships?
We have antiquated views about what it means to be in a male-female relationship and what money means in a relationship — and much of it is rooted in biology and how we’ve been raised. I think part of the reason some men have a tough time with this financial flip is because they face a set of unfair societal expectations about what it means to be a man and a “provider.”
Researchers at Pew, in fact, found that 67 percent of Americans still believed it was “very important” that a man be ready to support a family before getting married, while only 33 percent believed the same about women. And many men still personally believe that it’s important for them to make more than their wives. It’s a powerful social and psychological norm that’s here to stay for now. So when it’s violated, it can make men feel lessthan or emasculated.
I also want to point out that it’s not necessarily just men who have a problem with their wives making more. Sometimes it’s that she has issues with it because, perhaps, she has more traditional expectations of what it means to be husband and wife, as well. At the end of the day, some women still want to feel like they’re being ‘taken care of’ by their partners in some capacity. There are a lot of ways to feel ‘taken care of’ that have nothing to do with money, of course. But if her definition of being ‘taken care of’ involves feeling financially protected, then she may be in for a rude awakening as the breadwinner.
What can couples where the woman is the breadwinner do to protect their relationships from the problems that can arise from this situation?
- Level the financial playing field. In marriages where the wife brings home a bigger paycheck, she is twice as likely as her husband to make all the financial decisions, and while on the surface this may seem like a positive thing (since we always want to encourage women to be more engaged in the family’s financial planning), this could – and does – emotionally backfire at times. She may begin to feel stressed and resentful that she’s taking on so much responsibility. And he may begin to feel slighted, as so much of his ego and dignity may be tied to feeling financially significant in the relationship. So, partners need to, as I say in the book, find a way to ‘level the financial playing field’ and give each person’s money meaning. For the person earning less make sure to consciously appropriate his money towards significant spending or saving goals such as the college savings account for the kids, the next vacation or the down payment on a new car.
- Respect how gender influences our needs and wants. Rule No. 5 in the book is called Cater to the Male Brain and that sentence, alone, is enough to ignite some controversy, to say the least. Women have stopped me and asked, “Why should we cater to him at all? We’re doing all the work. He should just know to step up and be a team player. It’s not our job to make him understand.” But what this chapter is really trying to convey is that there are major differences in how men and women’s brains function. It also goes in depth about how gender influences our innate needs. All of this plays out in relationships. If you’re interested in nurturing the relationship, it helps to embrace these facts and incorporate them in how you communicate to and relate with another. And this rule, while explaining to women how to express themselves better with men, is really about helping women in the end. Knowing how to communicate with your guy when discussing, say, household responsibilities in such a way that he really gets it is ultimately a win for her.
- Redefine your purposes. While he may not be the primary breadwinner, he may still want to be and feel like the most important person in her life. What will be his new purpose in the relationship? This has to be discussed and defined, otherwise without communication it’s easy for him to lose a sense of direction in the relationship and for her to begin wondering what she really needs him for. To avoid arriving at this place of contention and resentment, couples must re-examine their roles in the relationship as soon as this financial flip becomes a reality. As the breadwinner, she is clearly the one who must put more energy towards securing her paycheck, as the family depends on it. He, too, can bring a significant amount to the table that has less to do with money and more to do with supporting his wife and family such as taking on full accountability of the family’s food and nutrition, offering emotional support and guidance, overseeing the finances, and/or being the primary caretaker.
Why do so many people — both men and women — feel uncomfortable outsourcing household chores even when they can easily afford to do so?
When she makes more she actually does MORE housework if you can believe it. Researchers think this has to do somewhat with an irrational voice in her head that says she needs to overcompensate for her higher earning status in domestic ways. She may want to prove to her husband that she can still be a “good housewife.” Crazy, right? Men, meanwhile, may not see housework as much of an issue as women have been conditioned to see it. They may not be as sensitive to it and therefore, less likely to feel stressed out over it…thinking they can handle it on their own.
The key to finding balance on the homefront is not necessarily splitting all chores evenly. Rather, it’s about taking on the tasks that you each individually are best at doing – and have the time and capacity to accomplish — and leaving the rest for others to take care of. In our house we outsource laundry and the house cleaning. Indeed, outsourcing or buying yourself a wife (as I tongue-and-cheekly say in my book), can be a valuable investment.
How to know if your time isn’t worth it? Take your income, cut off the last three zeros and divide that number by two. That’s roughly your hourly rate. If it costs less to hire someone to accomplish a task for you, it’s probably worth it to outsource.
Any other comments/advice specifically for Millennial men and women?
As the more progressive generation don’t shy away from relationships where she may be the predominant earner. Marriages with a female breadwinner can and do thrive when men and women are able to transcend stereotypical gender role expectations. Be the example that the next generation can live by and aspire to.
If we want to encourage women to pursue success, we need to offer them hope that when they marry for love their higher income is merely a wonderful asset for the family and it won’t interfere with his and her happiness.
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