‘I Make Less Than My Wife’: How 3 Real Men Feel About It

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men making less their wivesIt’s a fact: Women breadwinners are on the rise.

At a time when the gender wage gap is still alive and well—full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar that men earn—a recent Pew Research Center study found a striking statistic: 40% of American families’ primary breadwinners are mothers, and 37% of those breadwinners–an estimated 5.1 million–are wives who make more than their husbands.

But all is not well on the women-earning-more front: The same Pew study found that having a female breadwinner was reportedly stirring up trouble in marriages. Why? Well, 50% of respondents felt it was harder on a marriage, and 74% said it was harder to raise children.

Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist, executive coach, and author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days,” sees many patients who face this situation.

“For a lot of guys, it affects their ego and they start to feel emasculated,” says Alpert, who traces the feelings all the way back to the 1950s. “Society believed men were the breadwinners and women stayed home or did not pursue a career,” he says.

We wondered: Just how do real men in 2013 feel about bringing home less than half of the paycheck? 

So we sat down with three men, successful in their own right, to see how an income differential plays out in their relationships, and how Alpert says each couple is faring.

RELATED: Long-Married Couples Confess: How We Talk About Money

“She Wore the Pants”: The Self-Esteem Factor

Alan, 40, is a successful accountant at a small firm he helped start in Bethesda, Md. Yet his wife, a doctor, still earns more than him. At first, Alan was embarrassed by his wife’s breadwinner status. “It was a male ego thing,” he says. “There was just something about it that made me feel inadequate. I knew it was illogical.”

Three years ago, after nearly six years of marriage, his resentment bubbled over when his uncle asked why they never had children. “I made a rude comment about how my wife was too busy wearing the pants in our relationship to be a mom,” says Alan. “And then instantly regretted it.”

That evening, Alan and his wife discussed their salary differences and the toll it was taking on his self-esteem for the first time since she graduated from medical school. “She helped me gain perspective. There are so many more important things to worry about in life than who makes more money,” he says.

RELATED: Money Mic: How Money Is Ruining My Marriage

Talking it out also helped Alan to see his wife’s point of view. “The whole time, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding my feelings, but it turns out she knew and was internalizing my resentment into guilt,” says Alan. “That about broke my heart.”

“Now I’m able to see that being grateful to have a job, a roof over my head, and a talented and successful wife who loves me no matter how much I make, is more than enough,” he says. “Plus, it’s really not too shabby having a sugar mama!”

If You’re in This Situation: If you’re also feeling embarrassed, you’re not alone. “It’s all too common, and rooted in old-school thinking,” says Alpert, who says the real source of Alan’s issues is his own insecurity. “The conversation that followed provided reassurance to Alan that his wife was fine with things and didn’t think any less of him.”

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  • DC

    My wife says “you’re lazy.”

  • Matthew Gordon

    I think the important thing is to feel successful and to feel useful. Husbands’ and wives’ salaries rarely directly affect each other. If the amount of money I’m making isn’t changing, of course I’d want my wife earning more! Any kind of salary-related ego should be about comparing to the market, not to someone whose money gets to be seen around the house anyway.

    For example, let’s say I’m earning $100K, and I will be no matter what my wife earns. Of course I’d rather she earn $150K than $50K. That’s an extra $100K in the household, which is an enormous boost. The other way around is the key one. If she’s earning $100K no matter what I earn, and I’m earning $50K instead of $150K, I’d feel really emasculated, but that’s because I’m earning less than I want to personally, nothing to do with her. The first scenario is the one people generally face, though, unless they’re forced to cut hours because of a spouse’s job.

    • kazeldya

      But wouldn’t you feel better making $50,000 if you love the job than $150,000 in a job you don’t really like?

      • Matthew Gordon

        That’s all things being equal. In the scenario you described, I’d probably spend 2-3 years at the higher paying job, bank as much as possible, and then build my career in the job i love.

  • kazeldya

    There’s a major difference between my husband’s and my income, and I feel like people look down on him earning so much less. We both work a lot of hours, but he is just starting out and earning very little. We struggle to pay our bills, but I don’t see how it’s any different than if one of us was in school or I was the one who was an artist and not earning much. People seem to think it’s a big deal that he earns so little… I think we just need to make sure we can cover our bills, however we do it.

    • Mar

      Maybe if it is more of en external issue than an internal issue, the salary
      subject is something you should keep to yourself. Why do people around you (who
      are apparently not positive, kind people) need to know what your salary is vs.
      his salary? I see that as more of a issue of you sharing too much personal
      information with the wrong people.

      • kazeldya

        It’s pretty obvious due to our jobs that I earn more. I am constantly taking on extra work in hope that we’ll break even and be able to pay our bills, and his work doesn’t bring in enough to cover its own expenses plus food… people just feel like he should make a larger portion of our income. I don’t know if that would be different if we made $100,000 or something…

    • Julie G

      Hang out with less judgmental people!

      Ha. Not so easy to do if half of them are family, but if that’s the case, just tell them to mind their own business. If people think each of your earnings is a big deal, that says more about their values and biases than it does about your earnings. Tell them p*&s off!

  • k_wilson

    “It’s a fact: Women breadwinners are on the rise…a recent Pew Research
    Center study found a striking statistic: 40% of American families’ primary breadwinners are the wives.”

    This phrasing is misleading. Of this 40% of households, only 36% are married women who outearn their husbands, whereas 63% are single head-of-household women. So only 14.4% of the total population are women who earn more than their husbands. We still have a long way to go.

    • Charlotte L.

      THANK YOU. I was going to comment just to point this out. It bothers me that people are using this “40%” statistic so frequently because the statistic truly only shows the prevalence of female-headed households. Households in which the wife makes more than her husband are still a *huge* minority.

      Not that this isn’t a great topic to discuss. But I think it’s misleading to twist that statistic the way that people have been doing. And misleading to condemn pundits who have been pointing out that an increase in single-parent households is not necessarily a good thing for our country.

      Love LearnVest, but I think it would’ve been a little more forthwith to include the ENTIRE statistic so as to not mislead readers who haven’t read the original report.

      • k_wilson

        It’s pretty irritating. It’s also difficult to know how many reporters on this don’t actually understand the statistic and how many understand but are deliberately stretching for a better headline.

        • Alex Mills

          Your view is misleading too, and oversimplified. Couples tend to get together where the man earns more. So that’s why married couples where the woman earns more are fewer in terms of percentage.

  • HHobby

    As a successful woman who made more than her husband I understand the feelings. The way I see it is, be proud! If your wife is successful and can bring home the bread, than great! She’s the love of your life and amazing, and he should support her in that! My brain paid the majority of the bills…one would think that this is a good thing. I didn’t care how much he made and I made, we were both supporting the household fairly and that should be enough between PARTNERS! I felt that we needed to see beyond the $$$ and know that we were a team in this.

    • Guest

      So you think earning more is a matter of brain?
      Need I say more?

    • phillip

      The reality is, the divorce rate of ‘stay at home dads’, or men who make less than their wives, is astronomical. Let’s talk again, in 5 years, and see how that is working for you. A man’s self esteem is tied to his work, because, contrary to popular belief, men are wired differently than women.

      I bought into the fantasy, was a happy ‘stay at home dad’, until my wife decided that she no longer valued me as a husband……for lack of ‘financial support’. I silently withstood the abuses that many ‘feminists’ hurled at me-for ‘probably suffering becuase you are jealous that she makes more than you’, all without any evidience that this was true, and not knowing, actually, how I felt. I was fine with it……until the divorce papers came. This ‘ego’ thing is a war cry to the feminists! You are guilty, regardless of how you feel, simply because you are a man. This ‘assumption’ is one of the ways men are wired differently……most men I know would not hurl such an insult, unless they had facts to prove it……..but then again, when has that become relevant to any feminist argument?

      Men, don’t make that mistake. If you cannot earn more than your wife, do not get married. The financial thing has overtaken ‘love’ in this whole marriage game-a turnabout, very much endorsed by the feminists themselves. Once you’ve given up your power, it is impossible to take it back, and by ‘serving’ your wife, and not taking the lead, you will forever be beholding and apologetic for…….just being a man.

      • Barbara

        You sound quite bitter. I am sorry that you had such bad luck with your spouse, but I assure you that not all women, or feminists, are like that. We’re human beings after all, and human beings are all different. You just happened to be married to a person who valued their own desires above your marriage. I make more than my husband, but he does not serve me, and nor does he take the lead. We are a partnership, and after over a decade of marriage (and me earning more than him), we are still very much in love. The key is communication and equal contribution (you get what you give, after all). We also each put half our individual incomes into a joint account, and the agreement has always been that once it is in there, it is ours to share.

        I hope life treats you better in the future. Relationships aren’t always easy, and it does take an incredible amount of luck to find the right person (I used to think I’d never get married because I had such bad luck with men before meeting my husband. Did I go around blaming all men as a result of the few bad eggs I met? No, and nor should you go around acting like all women and feminists are monsters. Feminism is really about equal respect across both genders, after all, but unfortunately there are some people who distort that. Best of luck to you, my friend.

        • GetAClueOr2

          you are correct, all women are not like that, there is exception for most rules. How many times have you dated or been interested in men below your socio-economic class? Probably never… Gee, I think I’ll date that unemployed guy and maybe he’ll be a good dad HAHAHAHAHAHAHHA which was said NEVER to anybody LOL

          • Barbara

            Did you actually read my post you idiot? My own husband makes less than me, and yes, it was that way before we got married too.

      • GetAClueOr2

        sure won’t get any females on the planet to see any of your point. There are three things that a woman wants in a husband but will accept two out of the three. He has to be
        1. richer than her
        2, smarter than her
        3, taller than her
        Single women will often remain single if they can’t find a guy that makes more money. Bigger, better, deal
        women blame guys for treating them as sex objects yet women have been using men as SUCCESS objects since the beginning of time, Now that they make more, their options are smaller. When was the last time a woman hit on the 30 year old guy at the drive through? Eventually, women will figure it out or have to get all the pleasure from the job or other women and toys.

  • Mark

    I am pretty hyped my wife makes more than me. it just means our family is now better off.