An upcoming article by Professor Jay Teachman of Western Washington University in the US concludes that when the female half of a married couple earns more than the male, the relationship is 38% more likely to end in divorce. A shocking statistic that should strike fear in the heart of every woman who is at once professionally ambitious and desperately romantic, or so the Daily Mail would have us believe.
The study apparently followed 2,500 women who married for the first time between 1979 and 2002, although it isn't stated actually how many of those earned more than their partners. When we emailed Teachman, he noted that this depends on how long the women had been married and their race, however, he has still managed to conclude that a male-biased 60:40 income split is ideal for happy marriages. That mental leap is one I'm less comfortable making.
Indeed, I'm not convinced Teachman is fully onboard with his fiscal recommendation. In 2004 he positively reviewed a 2,000-person study by Stacy Rogers that seemed to conclude, well, pretty much the opposite: "Wives' economic resources do not undermine families in any way. If the marriage is happy, then the couple's income does not contribute to the likelihood that they will divorce," said Penn State's Rogers.
As a woman who earns more than her husband, I know which version speaks most to me. Through every promotion, raise and new job offer my husband has been my biggest cheerleader, just as I have been for him with postgraduate places earned and scholarships won.
Of all the cultural monkeys we carry on our proverbial back, I hope the belief that the man must be the main breadwinner is one we dislodge soon. Not because it is the most important, but because it seems so petty. In a world where we risk financial woes as varied as defaulting on mortgages to going hungry for lack of funds, making who brings the bigger slice of the bacon home a divorce-worthy issue stinks of a massive ego and a very small mind. Quite frankly, I think far more of the men I know than to ever believe them capable of such pea-brained behaviour.
No doubt there is truth to Teachman's conclusions, but is seems likely the issue is more complex than pay packet envy alone. How many lower-earning men suffered from depression after losing a job in a tough economy or because of a workplace injury? ("Unfortunately the male partners were not interviewed," Teachman told us, "so we can only assume what their feelings may have been".) How many high-rolling women are forced to prioritise their jobs to a detrimental degree while negotiating around what - if no longer a glass ceiling - remains a particularly inaccessible glass loft space. And to what extent are results skewed by financially-dependent females who feel they don't have the means to kick their provider to the curb? Better-off wives may be quick to escape an unhappy marriage - but that doesn't mean they're more likely to be unhappy in the first place.
As a society we need to create more ways for adults to feel valued than simply the number of zeros on their paycheck. If we did perhaps we would find men flooding back to work in primary schools and women confidently climbing the corporate ladder, without worrying that if her marriage fails those around her will blame her salary.
By: Phebe Hunnicutt