Relationship Satisfaction Drops When the Woman Earns More: Study
Thu, April 22, 2021

Relationship Satisfaction Drops When the Woman Earns More: Study


The number of women all over the world who enter the workforce is on the rise. This is inevitable as more women are going to college and choosing careers that a few years ago were only available to men. This has also led to a change in household breadwinning arrangements: women earning more than their men.


New household breadwinning arrangement

Financial services company TD Ameritrade recently conducted a survey that shows that about 50% of women in the US out-earn or make the same amount as their partners or husbands. This marks a rapid change because, in 1960, only 3.8% of women earned more than their men based on Pew Research Center. About one in four households in Australia also have this new household breadwinning arrangement, where women are the main earners. However, aside from challenging the traditional expectations of gender roles in family life, a new study revealed that couples’ relationship satisfaction drops when the woman earns more.

University of Southampton research fellow Niels Blom and University of Melbourne professor of sociology Belinda Hewitt shared in their study that the traditional breadwinning expectations remain strong. Their study used data involving 11,986 people and 76,866 observations from the Household, Income, and Labor Dynamics in Australia household panel survey collected over 17 years. In their analysis, they also took into consideration not just the economic prosperity of every household but also the marital status, number of children, health, gender role attitudes, and division of household labor.

Blom and Hewitt said that they did this to make sure that any changes they found in relationship satisfaction as to who is the breadwinner in the family were irrespective of those other characteristics mentioned. For instance, it won’t come as a surprise that couples feel less satisfied in their relationship if the reason the woman earns more is that her partner is unemployed.



Female breadwinning and partnerships

On average, their research shows that women are least satisfied with their relationship if she is the main earner because her partner is unable to work because of disability or illness. This is, however, not the case in the reverse. A man's relationship satisfaction doesn’t change if his woman is unable to work. Generally, couples were more satisfied with their relationship if the woman is the homemaker. This is in agreement with another international study published in the digital library of academic journals JSTOR titled “The Happy Homemaker? Married Women's Well-Being in Cross-National Perspective." The international study concludes that women homemakers are “slightly happier” than wives who work full time. Yet, homemakers don’t have an advantage compared to part-time women workers.

Blom and Hewitt went on to say the two mains reasons why female breadwinner households are formed. The first one is when couples take a gender-equal approach in their relationship and second is when the male partner is unable to work because of illness or unemployment. The first reason usually has positive consequences in their relationship quality whereas the second reason may have negative consequences in relationship satisfaction.

They said that men were most satisfied as the main or equal earner in the family and that despite changes in the labor market, gendered expectations continue to exist. They also cite that traditionally male-dominated sectors have been subjected to long-term decline and boost and bust cycle (economic expansion and contraction).



Percent of wives who earn more than their husbands: statistics

German database company Statista shared the percentage of wives who earned more than their husbands in married-couple households in the US from 1990 (19.2%) to 2012 (29%). In 2000, there were 23.3% of wives in the US who earned more than their husbands, which slightly increased the following year to 24.1%, and 25% in 2002. The statistics they presented show the percentage of women as primary earners in the following years: 2003 (25. 2%), 2004 (25.3%), 2005 (25.5%), 2006 (25.7%), 2007 (25.9%), 2008 (26.6%), 2009 (28.9%), 2010 (29.2%), 2011 (28.1%), and 2012 (29%).


“Your success is my success.”

American University Radio shared the story of couple Kalina Newman and Alex Peña as it exemplifies the female breadwinning setting. Despite knowing that Newman earns more than twice what Peña does, he said that her woman’s success is also is a success. The two have been dating for four years and are not yet married. Peña said, “There was a brief period where I was, not jealous, but I was more like, ‘am I doing my part?’” Then, he added how the situation made him felt inadequate. His feelings are not unusual though. The American Psychological Association found that a man’s self-esteem may take a hit when his female partner outperforms him in general. On the other hand, women are not affected by the success of their partners.

This causes some women to hide their earnings from their partners so as not to make both parties uncomfortable.



Employment trends

American daily USA Today published a comparison of US Census data from 2000 and 2016 employment composition by gender in more than 300 occupations to determine the jobs that are dominated by women. These jobs include veterinarians (2000 female workers: 15,140 and 2016 female workers: 38,885), natural sciences managers (2000 female workers: 4,990 and 2016 female workers: 9,452), pharmacists (2000 female workers: 2000 female workers 57,610 and 2016 female workers: 117,12), public relations and fundraising managers (2000 female workers: 29,480 and 2016 female workers: 34,416), and graders and sorters of agricultural products (2000 female workers: 6,240 and 2016 female workers: 21,342).

Other jobs included in the list are animal trainers (51.8% female workers in 2016), bakers (54.0%), first-line supervisors of personal service workers (65.4%), opticians, dispensing (71.0%), writers and authors (56.6%), fabric and apparel patternmakers (82.6%), nonfarm animal caretakers (71.4%), compliance officers (52.6%), lodging managers (52.7%), and technical writers (58.2%).

Globally, though, the labor force participation both of men and women is declining. This is according to the International Labor Organization’s ILOSTAT database.

The study only shows that when gender earning norms are reversed, there would be resistance and stumbling blocks but this can be solved by communication. Both parties should share how they feel about the situation and get to the bottom of it. This could also be an opportunity for further growth for the couple and the two as individuals.