Personal Finance 

Does Your Significant Other Out Earn You?

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I think there is still an overwhelming belief in American society, despite how far we’ve come in gender equality (19th amendment, women’s suffrage, is less than a hundred years old), that the male is the breadwinner and the female is the homemaker – which leads to some consternation when the female out-earns the male. Despite the gender neutral title, I think this question is more acute if you’re in a heterosexual relationship and you’re a guy who comes from a more fairly traditional family with a single breadwinner, your father. (I don’t know the dynamics of homosexual relationships, but it would be nice if someone from Queer Cents could share their two cents on this)

So, if you’re the guy and your girlfriend, fiancée, or wife made more money than you, would you be bothered by it? If you’re the girl and your boyfriend, fiancé or husband made less money than you, would you be bothered by it, insomuch that you’d be afraid of making him feel bad?

I’d say that in my situation, I’d be okay with it in part because I see it more like “us” and less like “me and her,” if that makes sense. One of my friends and his wife, I know that very soon one day the wife will out earn the husband. The husband is perfectly fine with that because he sees it as a team so there is never the consideration of “her” out earning “him,” it’s “they” out earning “old they.” I think that’s healthy but not necessarily the average reaction.

I also think it’s perfectly acceptable to be bothered by it for a variety of reasons. If you and your SO one day want to drop to one income and raise children, just so one of you can stay home with the kids, I do believe that the mother is better at raising children than the father (before you scream gender discrimination, just consider the biological advantages of mothers). If the mother out earns the father, it’s harder to replace the higher income and so there’s no doubt in my mind that the father feels pressure.


{ 38 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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38 Responses to “Does Your Significant Other Out Earn You?”

  1. Grace says:

    I’m interested to hear if the readers feel that the person who makes more money “seems” to have more power in the relationship. My husband and I make roughly the same, I probably make a little more due to bonuses. I think if he made a lot more than me, I would feel loss of power. I don’t know why, I just do.

    Great blog, it’s my first time commenting. I’m a newlywed, so I’d love to hear your views on individual/joint/individual and joint accounts. Currently, we each contribute the same amount to the joint account, which covers our monthly expenses, with the remaining going to our individual accounts.

    • Jennifer says:

      We do the opposite, since he makes a bit more than me. First, a certain equal dollar amount goes to our individual accounts. Then, the rest goes to the joint account. Therefore he contributes more to the joint account, whereas the way you do it, whoever makes more gets more in their individual account.

      We used to fight over spending on a few things. Nothing major, things like gifts for family (he was overly generous to his family in my opinion) and personal items (for him – guitars, for me – massages). So we started the individual accounts and agreed specifically what they’d be used for. If I ever quit my job to be a homemaker, I’d still get my personal allowance so I can buy a Christmas gift for him w/ out him knowing exactly what I spent!

  2. J says:

    My girlfriend and I recently graduated with bachelor degrees. I haven’t found a real job yet (still at my retail job I worked through college, desperately writing resumes etc.) and she already got a job making 40,000. I don’t know how I’m going to keep up with that and it’s terribly frustrating for me.

  3. SavingDiva says:

    I’m in a similar situation to J. Although I graduated college a few years before my boyfriend (he’s a year younger, but it took him an extra year), I think the difference bothers him. He doesn’t make enough money to live on his own and is still looking for a full time job. I don’t know if the pay difference bothers him, but I know not having a “grown-up” job makes him uneasy.

  4. JR says:

    my situation is extreme. My new wife makes 10 times more than me and always will. She is in a high level sales gig and I am a teacher. We just moved (for her job) and I don’t even have a job. The way we are living is she is supporting us and I am doing all the labor/errands, etc…basically I am playing the role of a stay at home wife. I have mixed feelings on this. It’s nice to have financial security, however I feel like I am not reaching my potential professionally. (Did I mention she is a slob and doesn’t lift a finger domestically?) She has the provider mentality and loves to outsource everything. Running our lives is a full time job and we don’t have kids! I’m resentful because I would like to find a job ASAP and contribute financially, not ask for spending money. Additionally I would like her to operate like an adult and pull some weight around the house. SO I feel stuck…any suggestions?
    Note: She is very content in our current situation which is rare for a woman…not putting value on a husbands financial contribution..I’m the one uncomfortable.

    • Jennifer says:

      It sounds like she makes plenty of money to “outsource,” as you say, but she should be hiring a maid, handyman, personal assistant, etc. instead of expecting you to fill all these roles. If your only motivation for wanting a job is to contribute financially, maybe I don’t agree w/ that since you might make less money than it costs to outsource all the domestic work. However, if your motivation is professional or self-fulfillment, go for it!

  5. My wife makes more than me, but it’s closer Situation B – though I wish it were those numbers. It’s great to know that we could get by if either one of us lost our jobs.

  6. Ann says:

    Males are given love, honor, support, respect, care, etc. only on the condition of sufficient achievement, money, power, etc. This is what makes Males very competitive; they are competing for feelings of self-worth as reflected upon them by society if they have sufficiency of those things. When they are doing anything they are being weighed and given only the amount of love, honor, respect, and support commensurate with those achievements. Those Males who do not have sufficiency are not only given less of those good things, they are given more aggression by society. This creates a lot more pressure on Males to either succeed in academics, which is good; and if they cannot, then they will search out a more protected and supported area in which they will have some feeling of love, honor, and respect from their peer group.

    Since our society is still following even in the information age, the belief Males should be strong, it still allows much aggression upon Males to make them tough. It also holds that Males should not be given mental/emotional/social/academic love, kindness, care and support for fear of coddling the Male from day one. This is so the Male can become a good little soldier to defend family and country. The problem with this is that it creates high average stress that impedes learning and creates along it more tension that leads more activity in Males and attention to mental/emotional development. This is why girls appear to mature faster, for Males are not given the same supports. This higher average stress and lack of support accumulate to create a large deficit in learning for Males.

    Now in the information age, Males are now competing with Females who have been well supported from day one and Males are beginning fall behind big time, especially from women in their 20’s and early 30’s.

    Men are not only earnings, they are losing out on feelings of self-worth or love, honor, and respect from society. It is plainly spelled out in the media that when Males appear weak, it is okay to give them more verbal aggression, more abuse, and more neglect. Since Men have brainwashed to believe they are better (perhaps deserving of more harsh treatment and neglect) they are now finding out that in real life such treatment is somehow helping women to succeed above them. Given the horrible myth of fixed intelligences taught in our society or simply working harder, many men are falsely believing they are less intelligent and/or not working hard enough. Given this false information, they truly feel threatened by those women who are succeeding and they are not. Society itself and its media is now working against the Male to place Male’s into perceived positions of being more suitable for menial labor and for Females to be placed into more white collar, management positions. The Male is now facing much more abuse on the job. Many low paid jobs are also riddled with much abuse, intimidation, and constant berating by managers over them. In more cases, women managers are the ones doing this. Yes, in society men who take jobs in lower more menial positions are given more abuse. It seems women working those jobs are somewhat more protected by society from this abuse. Many men are opting out of the workforce to protect their mental/emotional health, which they feel is more important to them than a paycheck.

    Many men today are losing their feelings of self-worth that women receive simply for being women. His wife could not understand his dilemma. because like many other women, she was reflecting her love, honor, respect, and protection in society upon him, not realizing his world was very different and much more unforgiving for signs of weakness. You see society’s primary antidote for perceived weaknesses in Males is to provide more aggression and neglect to make him strong, and not to support him when he is down. So, although his wife supports him with love, society will take him down for being weak. After years of brainwashing, he and others like him believe it to be true and deserving of punishment. This is why so many Males have a short life and so many more Male suicides. Yes, Males do feel threatened for they feel the scales are tilted very much against them.
    Complete learning theory to all on request by e-mail at

    • Xavier says:

      Hello Ann,

      Excellent work. Your comments are insightful, very well put and needed to be said. As a man I have felt such pressures even though I am a very hard worker and ambitious. I really appreciate these words that you presented and feel that you are a woman of great wisdom. Have a great day :).


  7. John Doe says:

    There should be more options available. Here is my situation:

    Hubby (me): 125K
    Wife (she): 250K

    I don’t feel any stress or resentment. She is a doctor and had to struggle like crazy to reach where she is. I am totally happy with what I make. Also I take it as a “we” and not he-she.

    I look forward to the big houses, vacations, and leisure activities. 😀

    I would like to hear about your opinions on my situation.

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