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

Like Angell, many other women living the new gender economics always expected to be financially independent or even dominant. When Rebecca Saletan, a 52-year-old New York publishing executive, met her husband, now a high school English teacher, he was a freelance writer-editor, actor and musician. Saletan has outearned her mate from day one, and it was he who stayed at home with their twin daughters when they were small. “I’ve always been attached to my career,” she says. “That’s how I’m wired. I had my first job when I was 15, and I was used to paying my own way; for me that was the path to freedom. I made more money than anyone I ever dated.”

 

Saletan acknowledges her luck in being able to trade a little less money for a much better quality of life. “I’m painfully aware that we’re in the upper point-whatever percent of the economy,” she says. But with all the basics taken care of, having her kids looked after by their adoring father and coming home to a fabulous meal at the end of her workday were better than having a lot more money in the bank.

 

Thanks to the options offered by -remarriage, even some women raised in the old gender economics are now experiencing the pleasures of the new. Mandy Aftel, 64, remembers being told as a girl that “you absolutely needed to get married—and to a breadwinner. If you didn’t, you failed.” It was only in her thirties, after she divorced a wealthy doctor, that Aftel focused more on her own work as a psychotherapist; eventually she became the founder of a natural--fragrance company in Berkeley, California. Independence was heady. “I liked knowing I could take care of myself,” she says. “I wanted the creative, independent and involved life, not so much the money that went with the life.”

 

Three years ago, she married a man 12 years her junior. When he lost his job (as a geophysicist) in the crash of 2008, Aftel hired him as head of operations. It wasn’t a decision that either made lightly. “He’s a techie, he’s thorough, he’s smart at dealing with people, and he’s a mensch,” she says. “But it’s my business, and I run the show here. He jokes that he’s Prince Albert to my Victoria, and he’s fine with that.”

 

Originally published in the March 2012 issue

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Comments

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 (www.stopdatingboysstartdatingmen.com)
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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