The New Gender Economics

Men are starting to think it’s sexy for women to outearn them. How this seemingly small change may rewrite the rules of marriage

By Lindsy Van Gelder
woman carries man wedding image
Photograph: Illustrated by Gérard DuBois

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man’s wallet is directly wired to his testicles. If he is not older, taller and (especially) better compensated at his job than the woman in his life, said testicles will shrivel and wither away. And said woman will pay the price for her excessive success.


It seems, however, that not everyone got the memo. According to data published by the Pew Research Center in 2010, the wife now earns more than the husband in 22 percent of married couples, compared with only 4 percent in 1970. And the salary differences can be substantial: The 2010 U.S. Census reports that over 4 percent of wives make at least $30,000 more than their spouses. Once you add to the “wife outearns” group the 25 percent of couples whose incomes are pretty much equal, it’s clear that the guy with the well-hung wallet is now just barely in the majority. The final blow to the old gender economics: A survey of men ages 26 to 36 found that 87 percent thought it would be “sexy” to date a woman who earned more money than they did.


Elizabeth Angell, a 37-year-old magazine editor from Brooklyn, met her husband when they were in graduate school. Back then, neither one was making money. But after she entered the job market, she outearned him by as much as $50,000 a year. The discrepancy was partly a function of career choice—he became a freelance writer—and partly the result of their different temperaments. “I’m very type A; my nickname is Planny McPlan,” she says. “He’s a live-in-the-moment guy who reminds me not to get caught up in that.” When their two-year-old son was born, they agreed that the new dad was well situated to work part time and take care of the baby three days a week—a job at which, she says, he is “extraordinary.”


Angell has close friends and neighbors with similar arrangements, so she has never felt the pressure of being a trailblazer. The only negative for her is one that men have often faced: “Being the breadwinner is nerve racking. I make more than he does, but I don’t make a fortune, so I sometimes worry that we don’t have enough resources to sustain us as a family,” she says. “I searched my soul about this, and it’s not about wanting to be taken care of. But it’s a big responsibility.” Despite some money worries, the couple, who recently had a second child, are happy with their choices. “We’ve constructed a life that is much less about making money and more about making time,” she says.


Originally published in the March 2012 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Barry 07.26.2012

Apologies in advance for the length of this, but I feel very strongly about it. As a dating mentor I can't agree with the conclusions they're pushing in this article. Yes, men find it increasingly "sexy", but male attraction and male long-term mating are not the same thing. The things that create initial sexual intrigue are rarely the same things that sustain long-term partnerships and marriages.
More powerful, successful women are definitely on the rise, and men are trying to adjust to catch up in our attitudes. The truth is, what we "say" we are okay with for a survey and how well that works out in a relationships are often two different things.
I had a client recently who is a high-level contract negotiator and earns high-six figures. She began a relationship with a man who brings joy, laughter, light and commitment into her life, but is a ski instructor. At first both were okay with this balance, but within a year she had grown weary of feeling responsible for carrying the load while he didn't. There were a few lessons for her in the relationship that I think are valuable for both genders:
1) Most women I work with, and know, are happy knowing they *could* fully support the family, but prefer feeling like they are choosing to work, not that they *have* to work or the family wouldn't survive. They prefer knowing the man *can* pay the bills.
2) Many of the men who are happy to settle into being supported are good men, with their own vision, but many many more find themselves unhappy as they drift a bit, feeling purposeless. When a man has a purpose, even if it's becoming an olympic skier, things go better. He MUST be living to his highest potential in some OTHER area of his life, if not his income and career.
3) That brings us to #3… This is more about he guy's self-identity than anything. Most men, deep down, feel they "should" be able to provide for the family. When they don't/can;t they often feel lesser than. Even with a voluntary agreement by the guy that 'It's okay', quite often I see a slow passive aggressive resentment build. He's upset at himself for not stepping up, according to his own belief and identity. It can end up in him withdrawing affection, or other passive aggressive behavior towards her. We can;t always swallow the pill we believe we can.
4) The key is finding a man whose HIGHEST sense of purpose on this earth is being fulfilled. If he most strongly identifies with a calling to paint or write, and does so at his highest capability, he can feel manly and fulfilled. His identity and self-esteem must come primarily from something other than earning and providing. These men are fewer and further between.
The truth is, Ali (and ladies) *I* thought I was a pretty enlightened guy and I fell into this trap myself. Anna, my wife, is a powerful, fantastic woman. I grew up believing in empowering women in every way possible. Y'all can do anything, and many things better than men can! So when we moved to Los Angeles and struggled at first, I was fine with Anna being able to support us for awhile since her job was more easily transferable. I believed there was no reason a woman couldn't support a guy while he worked towards his dream. After a couple of years, however,, and this is hard to admit, but there was simply less spark in our sexual chemistry. It was hard to feel like a powerful man while she was supporting me. I was shocked when I realized this as it's the LAST attitude I'd expect myself to have. I am the FARTHEST thing from a 'typical guy' of any guy I know. We talked about it and Anna and I agreed that she didn't want to feel responsible for carrying us. It would be nice to get a break, and for me to take a turn. Well, I stepped up. And since then things have improved a thousandfold between us. I still believe it's great when women accomplish even more than their partner, but I also know what it can do to any man who isn't 'stepping his game up'.
That doesn;t mean you can't have it all, though, ladies. I still believe you CAN. The key is that your man be TRULY striving to reach his full potential in the dream or identity that means the most for him. If he is giving that up, then it better be temporary, like taking a couple years to raise the kids so you can get ahead, then him getting a turn too. Or, find that rarest man, whose self-identity is entirely about being the support person to your ambition. But tread carefully, because you don't want to date someone you think is a man, and find out later he's just a boy and willing to live below his own standards for himself. That's why I'm teaching women to stop dating boys and start dating men (
Feminism was the best thing to happen for women, but we, as men have been struggling to find our role in this new dynamic. We initially swung too far the other way on the pendulum to compensate. Somewhere between the puppy dog "Yes ma'am" man, and the cave man chauvinist lies the man who knows who he is, works for his dream, and supports his strong, strident, stunning woman. Somewhere out there, is the right man for you

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