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