Why Does It Still Feel Wrong to Make More Than Your Husband?
Farnoosh Torabi is a first generation Iranian-American. When she was a child, she remembers going out to dinner with other Iranian-American families and watching all of the fathers fight to pick up the bill while the mothers sat back and sipped their tea.
When Torabi, a personal finance expert, decided to marry a man who makes significantly less money than she does, her mother was not pleased. Torabi endured "a gazillion questions," which motivated her to examine her own nagging feeling of discomfort with the pay disparity between herself and her soon-to-be husband. "Here you are as a woman, you are financially stable, you are successful, your career is successful, you are confident, you can take on the world, but part of you feels like you are not meeting up to expectations," she says. "At least culturally, I was a disappointment to my family. All I knew was that it was not a good feeling."
A journalist and personal-finance expert by trade, Torabi began to research the emerging category of women who make more money than their husbands or boyfriends. What she found was that those feelings of inadequacy were shared by many of these women. Not only that, but having greater financial success was ruining their chances of having a successful relationship. High-earning women are less likely to get married, more likely to feel unhappy in their marriages if they are married and generally feel as though they ought to be working less and doing more of the housework and childcare, according to Torabi's findings. Ultimately, these very high-earning women are more likely to get divorced.
While both men and women say they are unfazed by a woman bringing home more money than a man, their actions speak a different truth. Biologically, we humans are still engrained to think that men should be the providers. For Torabi, that dissonance in conscious and instinctual expectation both caused friction in her own life and inspired her to write the book, When She Makes More, which was released today.
In it, Torabi compiles 10 rules for women who make more money than their male partners. The first rule is that the high-earning woman and her man are going to have to confront the psychological stigma that men should be the breadwinners if they are to be a long-lasting couple. She also recommends women spend the money to have their household chores outsourced. Women are more likely to take on domestic chores, and if they are also the primary breadwinner, the nearly inevitable result will be burnout and breakdown, she says.
Also, women who make more money than their man will be benefited by understanding and catering to the male brain, when possible, says Torabi. Men still want to feel like providers, even if they are not making the majority of the money for the household. Recognize what they do, but not too much, warns Torabi. Men don't like to feel mothered by their wife, either.
"You can, frankly, marry for love and not for economic reasons. That has been the message that I grew up with, but then, when I did marry for love, I had a rude awakening," says Torabi. "The phase that we are in right now, that I am in, there is this push-pull between what we know is right and how we psychologically feel."
For a taste of Torabi's investigation into this first phase of the breakdown of gender protocols, check out the excerpt below.
For most of us women today, our fathers and grandfathers derived a large part of their sense of identity from their ability to provide and protect while our mothers and grandmothers shaped their identity from their family and domestic duties. But we're no longer living up to these classic standards of identity. Our attitudes might have matured a little (i.e., many of us don't want or expect to be "kept" anymore, and men are generally happier to help out around the house and with child care), but our personal lives are still heavily defined by the experiences with which we grew up. This may be why many women in the primary breadwinning position are not entirely comfortable, but they also feel that being a full-time housewife is dialing back their ambitions. And while their men may take pleasure in their success, the women can be secretly frustrated and disrespectful if their partner doesn't match their hunger and earning power. No joke. According to one survey, almost three-quarters of women admit that they would prefer divorce and raising their kids alone if their spouse wanted them to be a housewife or work just part time.
Another way to understand all the latest statistics and accompanying clashes and conflicts between men and women is to consider that our culture--our economic and public lives--has changed faster than our social and emotional lives have. And our old-fashioned brains haven't caught up to any of this; our DNA doesn't want to progress, but our conscious minds don't want to turn around, either. As Brad Klontz clarifies, while we might be cool with a female breadwinner on a cognitive level, unconsciously our brain still expects a man in that role. This dissonance affects attraction, since both men and women use the unconscious brain to determine whether or not someone of the opposite sex is good-looking, and what assets that person would bring to a relationship, before fine-tuning it with their thinking, conscious brain. In that situation, a woman's brain would initially signal that a man who doesn't make as much money as she does would be less appealing, and the man's brain would signal that a woman who makes more could be threatening because he wouldn't have his role as alpha provider.
And as women we somehow feel responsible for taking on more of the housework even if we have a full-time job and make more money. This is probably because there's still an expectation there to fulfill. (By the way, Salary.com lists the job of being a housewife as being worth $135,000 annually.) As we'll see later in the book, men differ in terms of how they approach doing the housework (i.e., there's a biological reason he feels the need to make a list of what needs to be done before actually tackling it). What's more, our innate biochemistry clashes with flexible--and sometimes totally reversed--traditional gender roles. As therapist Bari Tessler Linden admits, "Men still do have a need for being providers, and a lot of women still want to be rescued or taken care of."
Suffice it to say, anyone who claims men and women are equal in society is as delusional as those who think we live in a postracial world. It's nice to pretend we're more evolved, but it's time to get real and figure out how our caveman/cavewoman parts can catch up. The feminists of the 1960s could not have predicted all this confusion, much less prepared the twenty-first-century breadwinning woman for it. We've arrived at the future our feminist leaders campaigned for decades ago, but many of us are not fully equipped to deal with the inevitable, often painful adjustments that come with the shift. It's nice to finally be "the richer sex"--a term coined by Liza Mundy in her seminal book--but it's not easy to negotiate this new frontier that's loaded with pitfalls, land mines, and unfamiliar territory. Our egos and sense of identity are sitting on the edge of a cliff.
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.