Spousal Wage Disparity: The Downside When Women Close the Income Gap

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

All variables being equal, men still earn more than women but the disparity is tightening. According to Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn of the Pew Research Center, men generally remain the major breadwinners in the house, but the percentage of women whose income has grown beyond their husband’s has increased from 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent now. This has changed the old marriage model, where the husband made the money and the wife managed the kids and the household. Now, both spouses work, share household duties and merge their paychecks.

These changes are likely a result of great strides in education for women. But not all of the changes are good. Women have gotten plenty of less desirable results from this, as well as good ones. Once, we had the option to go to work. Now there’s not much of a choice. Welcome to the world of men ladies: be careful what you wish for.

A new anecdotal survey conducted by BettyConfidential.com shows that women who earn more than their husbands experience more stress on the homefront and all claim that making more money is hurting their marriage. Seventy-five percent said they wished they weren’t the breadwinner. The survey asked divorced women and 66 percent responded that making more money led to their divorce.

Gender roles are changing in other ways. Men are increasingly willing to pitch in around the home and many do dishes, mop floors and cook the meals. Now, the number of men who do much of the cooking rose to 56 percent in 2008 from 34 percent in 1992, according to the Families and Work Institute.

When men are unwilling to participate in household and childcare duties even though they’re earning less money than their wives, many marriages fail. In order to succeed in this situation, a couple needs to have a partnership in their marriage. Both spouses should have similar values regarding work and money management, and share household responsibilities equally. If a couple agrees that it’s OK for the woman to earn more, it’s not going to affect them as much as if they enter the marriage with the expectation that the husband will be the main breadwinner.

In order to alleviate as much stress and tension as possible, couples should address their expectations for earning power. Historically, men associate their self-worth with how much money they earn, more than women do. If the wife is earning more, if she deserves to have more say in how the money is managed should be negotiated. Will the funds be handled differently? Will household responsibilities change? If the wife is earning more money because she is spending more time at work, a couple needs to discuss household and childcare responsibilities. In the end, what makes the most sense? It’s not about women making all the decisions, but that couples are sharing the decision-making, now.

A couple must agree that money doesn’t equal power and their relationship is worth much more than either before they can adjust to the new model of marriage. By creating unambiguous marital roles and fully addressing all aspects of the family finances-especially how it is handled and by whom-a couple can survive the changing financial and employment landscape of today. In the end, it’s about attitude more than the actual dollar amounts that cause the most conflict. If either spouse feels resentful or critical, it will eventually come out and ultimately destroy the marriage.


Nancy Travers is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She specializes in all types of relationships; We all want them, We all need them; How to get em and Keep them. Nancy’s office is located at 2212 Dupont Dr., Suite I, Irvine, Ca. 92612.

For more information or to make an appointment, call 949-510- 9423 or contact us.
copyright a division of Counseling Corner, Inc.
As seen in The Blade magazine June 2005.

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