Men, Women and Money: When She Makes More Than You


“Who wears the pants in the family?”

It sounds like a quaint throwback to a sexist era. But personal
feelings about men, women, and money are rooted in our culture. They run
deep and change slowly. When the woman in your life makes more money
than you do, those feelings can be powerful.

For starters, men and women may simply view the money they earn differently. An Australian study found that men view income as “their own’’ while their female counterparts saw it as “family money.” A U.S. paper from
the National Bureau of Economic Research is downright gloomy about
income disparities:  When women make more than men, they are less likely
to marry, and if they do, less likely to experience marital
satisfaction and more likely to divorce. If you’re starting to picture
the stereotypical 1950’s housewife in full makeup and dress dutifully
greeting her bacon-bringing home husband at the door consider this: The
paper also chronicled the rise of women in graduate schools and
executive positions. Their rise, according to the researchers,
contributed to a decline in marriages and a rise in divorce.

You, of course, don’t need to be a statistic. Many men and women
enjoy great relationships and strong marriages when she makes more than
he does. But it’s important to recognize the bias. Are men threatened if
their partners bring home more bacon than they do? Often, the answer is
“yes,” say experts.

“Men have been brought up to think of themselves as the strong,
protector of the weak in relationships,” says New York City-based
marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, JD, Ph.D.
“Unfortunately, the ‘weaker’ person in this equation is thought to be
the woman. One of the ways men feel they need to protect women is with
material comforts —  comfortable homes, safe cars, warm clothes and
solid neighborhoods. When their ability to provide these things is
overshadowed by a woman who makes more money than they do, they feel

Making It Work — For Both of You 

You can resolve these conflicts, says Dr. Hokemeyer. The
goal is to support your woman’s financial success without your sense of
manhood being threatened. It takes cooperation, and time, from both
partners. “The best way to do this is directly, by sitting down and
talking about your feelings surrounding finances with your significant
other, over time,” he says. A few tips:

  • Start out right Dr. Hokemeyer points out that a
    person’s idea of what money means surfaces early on in a relationship.
    So guys: Don’t go broke trying to be the alpha male. “Don’t think that
    you can spend your way into her heart,” says Hokemeyer. “Lots of men go
    into to debt trying to impress women with things they cannot afford.
    You’ll end up with bad credit — and bad relationship.”

  • Give it time “Do this through a series of
    conversations rather than a ‘one off,’ Hokemeyer says. “The attitudes
    and feelings you are trying to decouple yourself from are deeply
    ingrained in our individual psyches and in the cultural ethos that we
    live in. They are not changed in an afternoon over a glass of wine or a
    cup of tea.”
  • Celebrate each other’s successes Ultimately, the
    hunter/gatherer mentality will have to fall by the wayside if
    relationships are to proceed successfully. We should celebrate
    contributions made in all arenas. The more men and women share each
    other’s succcess, the less threatening those numbers on the paycheck
    will feel.

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