The progressive, egalitarian answer to the question “does it matter who makes more money in a relationship” would be “no,” right? It doesn’t matter because we should love people for who they are and not how much money they make. It doesn’t matter because money doesn’t define a person’s worth nor his/her contributions to a relationship. It doesn’t matter if it’s the man who makes more or the woman who makes more because we are beyond such gendered roles. Oh if it were only that simple!
Historically, men have done the lion’s share of bringing in income. Our current tax code is based on the assumption that there is one breadwinner in the household. Couples who make wildly disparate incomes often have a “marriage benefit” (i.e. they would pay less in taxes than if they were unmarried), while couples who make roughly similar amounts suffer from a “marriage penalty.”
There are research and anecdotal evidence that says men prefer women who make less money and women prefer men who make more money. When I was young I thought that was silly – especially men who wanted their spouse who makes less money. Why would you want LESS money if married folks combined all their money anyway? (Keep in mind that my understanding of “married folks and money”was based on a sample of 1: my parents). But in fact, my mother once told me that a marriage would be function more smoothly if the man made more money, even if it’s just a little bit more. Now my mother is a very wise woman, and life has proven her right time and time again. But I am hoping she isn’t that right on this issue.
My Personal Take
CB and I met in high school, so we were both as broke as a joke when we started going out. The highlight of those early days of courtship was Krispy Kreme’s free donut hour when the staff passed out complimentary glazed donuts. In teenage girl parlance, I heart delicious fried dough. (Still do!)
When we dated after college, we took turns paying when we went out. When we moved in, we split the rent according to our incomes and divided everything else down the middle, but we never kept very close accounting of who owes whom. Once we are married, we (and the State of California) are going to treat whatever we bring in as ours, not his or hers. Right now I make around 6o% of our income and CB makes 40%, but that hasn’t caused any friction so far.
I’d like to think this is the bottom line: I don’t care much if I make more money or CB makes more money – I just want our little economic/love unit to make more money, period! Haha. In other words, we’re playing on the same team. There will be times when I make more and times when he makes more, but it shouldn’t matter that much as long as we are both doing our best. I can definitely see conflicts, though, if one of us is out of a job without trying hard to find a new one or if our financial situation drastically worsens. Even though things are going fine, sometimes I think about what my mother has said. Am I too much of a Pollyanna? Is there something that my mom foresee that I can’t quite grasp right now?
What My Friends Say
One of my girlfriends said that she looks for a man who will make more money than she does, because she wants to feel that sense of financial security of NOT being the breadwinner. She also wants the option of staying home with kids later on, which would be easier if her income was a smaller portion of the family pie. Her reasoning makes perfect sense. In fact, I think it’s brave and self-aware of her to understand that about herself, because I know many women have conflicted feelings about this issue, but it can be difficult to say that you want your husband to make more money without sounding superficial or materialistic.
I have another friend of mine who has an MBA from a top school and a job making $100,000-plus. One evening, over a bottle of wine, she laid out this dilemma. She said that when she writes her Match.com dating profile, she is torn between three choices: (1) leave the field blank – but she doesn’t want to be excluded from search results that specify an income range, (2) write down her true salary range – but she has found that many men would not contact her because her salary is higher, and (3) lie about her salary, maybe put down a $40,000 instead – but that also feels wrong. What should she do?
Then again, I also talked to a guy friend who says that his ideal woman is gorgeous, thin, and rich as heck so he can enjoy a life of luxury filled with exotic cars and nice vacations. I’m pretty sure he was half-joking, but if a beautiful sugar mama dropped in to his life I doubt he would protest!
I haven’t talked to many men who said that they would view a women taking home a bigger paycheck as a negative. I’d like to think it’s a case of us all being more progressive, but just as it may be hard for women to admit that they want a man who makes more money, it may be difficult for men to admit that they want to be the breadwinner.