Lifestyle

What Happens When Your Wife Earns More Than You?

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Did you know that 4 out of 10 wives earn more than their husbands? I had no idea. I thought our family was just a small minority. However, female breadwinners are a growing trend and all of us will have to adjust to the new reality*. Changes can be difficult especially when it comes to traditional gender roles like being the primary income earner of the family. This isn’t a big issue for Mrs. RB40 and I, but it seems many couples are struggling with this adjustment. Unfortunately, researchers have shown that marriages can turn unhappy when the wife earns more than the husband. Divorce rates increase, men are more likely to cheat, and women feel more stressed out (increased consumption of anti-anxiety and sleeping pills). That sounds pretty bad…

I’m wondering if the media is magnifying the negative side of this trend. Mrs. RB40 is making more money than me now and our family is doing just fine. I made more than Mrs. RB40 for the first 15 years, but she’s making about twice as much as I do since I quit my engineering career. Is the income disparity destroying our relationship? No, we are doing better than ever. But let’s go through some issues other families are struggling with.

*This was pre-Covid. Unfortunately, many female breadwinners left the workforce since then. The data is not in yet, but it’ll probably be a while before we get back to this level. This post was originally written in 2015. Updated in 2022.

Housework

Let’s start with an easy one. We all know that women spend more time on housework than men, almost an hour more per day. This gap actually grows when the woman is the primary earner. That isn’t fair. Why does the wife have to do more chores when she makes more money? Researchers don’t know why this happens, but some people think women are trying to help the husband feel better about being outearned.

Mrs. RB40 definitely does more housework than I do. Whenever she goes on a business trip, our home quickly devolves into a messy bachelor pad. The toys invade all walkable space, the dishes pile up in the sink until we run out of clean plates, and the hampers overflow with dirty clothes. We clean up as much as we can the day before she comes home. Of course, we miss a few things, but that shows her we need her, right? 🙂 Guys just have a higher tolerance for messiness. 

Anyway, I think I do more chores now than when I was working full time. Let’s see.

  • Cooking: I cook most of our meals these days. Mrs. RB40 likes to cook, too, but she takes a long time to make a meal so she usually cooks something on the weekend. I cook much quicker so I do it almost every weekday.
  • Dishes: Mrs. RB40 does the dishes at the end of the day. It’s part of her unwinding ritual.
  • Vacuum: I vacuum and sweep every couple of days. Mrs. RB40 occasionally vacuums on the weekend when she feels the place needs it. (Update – Now that she’s working from home, she is doing most of the vacuuming.)
  • Bathroom cleaning: I usually scrub the sink and toilet once every couple of weeks.
  • Cat litter box: Mrs. RB40 deals with this one. Unfortunately, our cats went to heaven so no more litter box duty.
  • Dusting: Mrs. RB40 dusts once in a while. I rarely dusted when I was single and haven’t done it for years…
  • Laundry: Mrs. RB40 usually does most the laundry. Occasionally I’d do the laundry if I run out of underwear. I’d say 80:20.
  • Car: I take care of the car and drive everyone around.
  • Yard work: Mrs. RB40 does a lot of the yard work. She seems to enjoy it.
  • Home maintenance: I do most of the home maintenance.
  • Other chores: Usually, I go grocery shopping and do various errands around town.

Actually, I think we were almost even, pre-Covid. I did more housework than when I was working full-time. However, Mrs. RB40 picked up more since she has been working from home. She’s going back to the office soon and I think we’ll be around 50:50 again. Overall, we feel okay about housework. Cooking is a huge piece of the puzzle for us. I keep her happy by cooking delicious food. Guys, cook more and your wives will appreciate it.

Women Power

Money equals power. When a woman makes more, she has more power in a relationship. I think that’s a good thing, but it can wreak havoc if the relationship is not strong. For example, a woman breadwinner can reassess her man and see if she’s really happy with him. This might be the cause of the higher divorce rates. Previously, a lot of women probably had to stay in a relationship they weren’t happy with because it would have been more difficult to support themselves. It’s easier to call it quit when you’re the primary breadwinner. I read that men are reluctant to ask for alimony so that makes it even easier to separate. 

Also, if the wife makes more income than their husband, this could create an issue with respect. She might be unhappy about the husband spending her money frivolously. Or she’ll wonder why the husband can’t pull his weight and earn more money. This seems to be a big issue for women in high-power jobs.

We’re okay here, but I’ll let Mrs. RB40 comment in this section.

Mrs. RB40> When Joe first announced he was going to quit his job, I was furious and worried about maintaining our lifestyle. I didn’t realize back then how much he was going to end up working on this blog. I think if he didn’t have this blog or his other side businesses, I would wonder about his contribution toward the household, even if he took care of our son full time.

So guys, make an effort to earn some money. Even if you’re a stay-at-home dad, try to make some income on the side.

Male Insecurity

What about when men lose their traditional role as the breadwinner? That’s the traditional gender role and nobody likes losing what they had. Surprisingly, I don’t have any problem with this at all. I outearned Mrs. RB40 for 15 years so it’s only fair for her to make more than me for a while. I don’t know why other men have such a huge problem with this. Isn’t this the 21st century?  

However, we have some big financial advantages over other families. We don’t have any consumer debt.  We live modestly so we are comfortable with our cash flow every month. We can save for retirement, save for RB40Jr’s college education, and still live a nice lifestyle. We are financially independent and we don’t have to worry about money that much. I think that has a huge impact on how we view our situation.

Lastly, I’m the household CFO and I deal with all our stocks, bonds, rentals, real estate crowdfunding, and other investments. That’s a big responsibility and Mrs. RB40 recognizes that. The husband can contribute in ways other than earning income.    

Children

Another big issue is children. Even when the wife is the breadwinner, she is usually the primary caretaker for the kids. She’d have to schedule playdates, take kids to the doctor, and tuck the kids in. This might be the case for a couple where both partners have full-time jobs, but I doubt it’s true with a stay-at-home dad. I’m the primary caretaker for our kid and I think most stay-at-home dads are the same way. Mrs. RB40 spends as much time as she can with our kid, but I just have more time because I don’t have to go to the office.

RB40Jr was very attached to me when he was younger. This created a little resentment, but we’re over that phase now. Junior loves his mom and he’s always very happy to see her when she comes home from work.

This year, I went to Thailand for 3 months by myself. RB40Jr and Mrs. RB40 got to spend a lot of time together. They are doing pretty well. It’s a lot easier now that he’s a bit older and can take care of himself more.

We are doing fine

It’s been 9 years since Mrs. RB40 makes more money than I do. We are doing quite well and I don’t think that will change. It seems like everything is clicking for us to avoid problems that could arise from Mrs. RB40 earning more. Here are the most important factors.

  • Choice – I chose early retirement and I knew Mrs. RB40 would make more money than I do. Families that choose to have the woman as the primary earner usually deal with the challenges better. The couple that falls into this trend without planning to, have a much more difficult time accepting the development.
  • Solid marriage – We have been married for over 22 years and have known each other for 27 years. We are very comfortable with each other and we have a solid marriage.
  • Financial Independence – Our finance is solid. Our passive income is enough to cover our living expenses. Mrs. RB40 can quit her job if she really wants to, but she prefers to work for now. Neither of us would feel comfortable with me being a stay at home dad if we have to depend solely on Mrs. RB40’s income.
  • Partnership – We always work together toward similar goals. We make important decisions as a team and we respect each other.

We are comfortable with Mrs. RB40 being the primary income earner for these reasons. Of course, she has seen how much happier I’ve been since I retired and now she wants it, too. She plans to retire early when RB40Jr finishes high school. That’s several years away, but it will still be earlier than most people. Then I’ll be making more money than her again. 😉

Image Credit: Flickr by rkobes

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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