My Wife Makes More Money Than I Do

My wife makes more money than I do and I’m cool with that. To anyone who knows that my main job is being a Stay-At-Home-Dad, this should come as no surprise. What is a surprise is that, according to Yahoo! News, these days there are greater numbers of women who are earning more than their male partners.

Based on 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics figures hot off the press (a government economist slipped Mundy the stats before they were published, in fact), “almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives now out-earn their husbands.” While that’s not the majority—grandiose subtitles definitely are the norm—it’s darn close to it.

The earning difference was not always this way in our marriage. At the beginning I was the main breadwinner. I worked in IT as a technical writer, and she worked as a research assistant while attending grad school part-time. When she brought up the subject, I urged her into going to school full-time so she could finish her master’s degree sooner, which she did.

When we moved to Los Angeles so she could earn her Phd and I could attend grad school for creative writing, I continued to work full-time. My wife went to school full-time but she always made money either working as a teaching assistant or research assistant, or earning a fellowship of some kind.

We decided to do it this way for a couple of reasons: 1) working as a technical writer paid well, 2) having grown accustomed to a middle class income, we didn’t want to live on grad student salaries, 3) it allowed us to buy our first home.

The last one was part of our long-term planning. Our goal was simply to build up equity. Our hope was that when we made our inevitable move from LA, there would be enough equity for a down payment on our next home which wouldn’t require us to pay for mortgage insurance. We knew we would have to leave LA because my wife’s pursuit of an academic career could take us anywhere; academics have to go where the jobs are, jobs that are specific not just to an area of study, but a specialization within that area.

We lucked out in that we moved to a place where housing was much cheaper; we had reverse sticker shock. After living in LA for six years, we were amazed that in Mid-Michigan we would be able to afford not just a whole house, but a whole house with a yard, and walking distance from an elementary school.

Once we moved to Michigan, I became a stay-at-home-dad and my wife became the breadwinner. Just as I had to adjust to my new role, so did my wife. The pressure to be the breadwinner, which comes with the knowledge that you are the person responsible for earning enough money to feed, clothe, and house your family, is not an inconsequential amount of pressure. Not to mention attempting to gain tenure at a Research One University, which comes with the intense pressures of Publish or Perish.

(Note: I think if you asked professors under the age of 40 whether tenure should be abolished, my guess is that a majority would say yes.)

My wife knows that if she does not get tenure, she will have to look for a job elsewhere, and our family will have to move. (Like in many professions, jobs are not aplenty for academics these days.) Our family’s fate is directly tied to her career. I’m proud to say she handles all of this pressure, pretty well, all things considered.

But as the article points out, being the “breadwoman” also has benefits.

Women will have “the bargaining power they need to usher in a new age of fairness, complete the revolution, [and] push us past the unhappy days of the so-called second shift, when so many men and women were mired in arguments over equity that always seemed to boil down to laundry and dishes.” Men will be liberated, as well. “They’ll craft a broader definition of masculinity, one that includes domestication but also more time spent on manly pursuits: hunting, fishing, and extreme fitness.”

That last sentence is a little odd. It almost makes it seem as if the new Domesticated Male will be let outside periodically to do some traditionally manly things like hunt, fish, and participate in the X-Games. Personally, waiting all weekend in the cold November rain to kill a deer has no appeal for me. If deer meat is such good eating, why isn’t it available at every supermarket? I do like fishing, but then like hunting, there’s a lot of sitting around waiting for something to happen. I’m too old to participate in the X-games. Hell, I can’t even run a few miles without pulling a muscle.

By being the breadwinner, women will free men up from being judged almost solely on their income-earning potential.

Which will be just fine for women because they’ll come to “accept the breadwoman role,” Mundy predicts, and choose spouses who exhibit “supportiveness (a glass of wine waiting at the end of the day, a chance to unburden), parenting skills, and domestic achievements.”

I don’t pour my wife a glass of wine, but that’s because I keep my hands off of alcohol, due to my being an alcoholic. 🙂 On the other hand, I am the one who does the laundry, cooks, cleans, does home repairs, picks up our son from school, takes the kids to the doctor for their appointments, and all that fun stuff. This is not to say my wife is an uninvolved parent. Far from it. Every night she puts the kids to bed and reads them stories. She helps our son with his science fair projects. We both help him with his homework. On weekends, she often does things with the kids to give me a break.

This is how our current roles are defined. For the foreseeable future, she’s going to earn more money than I will. Maybe she’ll get fed up with Academia and we’ll decide I should go back to working outside the home full-time. Anything’s possible. Regardless, the current division of labor works for us and our family. If our needs change, then we’ll do what we need to accommodate those changes.


7 thoughts on “My Wife Makes More Money Than I Do

  1. Who cares about who makes the money? Important thing is that there is some income coming in! I am glad that you are such a good dad, as I am sure your kids are. The age of gender equality? I think so! By the way, I entered this post using only speech recognition. I cannot believe that it actually works! Thanks for a great post Rich!

  2. You … are … cool.

  3. Hi there! I’ve had almost exactly the same journey, from tech writer to part-time, stay-at-home poet/freelancer/adjunct, while my husband went from the secondary income to the main wage earner. The nice thing is we’ve both faced the pressure and pains of being on both sides of the fence, so I think we’ve learned to celebrate, trust, and work with each other through the stress points (like right now, we’re finally buying a house after twelve years of renting…) Maybe we should prescribe it for all marriages!

    • Good luck with the house hunt! That is a very stressful thing, but also exciting.

      I like the idea of shifting the breadwinning burden back and forth for all marriages. Someone will probably write a marriage book with that advice in it called “The Flex Marriage” or “The Trading Shifts Marriage” and then go out on the talk show circuit to fame and fortune. 😉

  4. I love that! “The Flex Marriage” – you should totally pitch that to a major agent.
    Yes, real estate brings out the worst in everyone.

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