The Real New Economics of Marriage: Men are Flatlining

BlogHer Original Post

Big news was just announced: Wives are making money, and a few of them (egads!) are making more than their husbands. The story goes (according to the Pew Research Center's recently released study called "Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage") that in the 1970's, 4% of working wives made more than their husbands. Now (40 long, hardworking years later), a full 22% of wives make more. Of course, if you flip that statistic, it means that 78% of husbands (that's more than three-quarters, for those of us mathematically challenged) are still making more than their wives. So? Where's the news?

Women are still underpaid relative to men. We are still doing double duty raising children, caring for the household, and bringing in the paycheck. So there's a subset of guys with wives who earn more? Lucky them. And, surprise, surprise! The other latest news-flash is that married men rate highest on the "happiness" scale (above single men and single women). Married women? We're the least happy. That's not news either.

Overall, women have made great strides. When I tell my children that as a young girl, I was discouraged to participate in sports because it was unladylike and that in college, I had professors who refused to call on me because I was female, and that just after I got married my boss asked when I was planning to quit to raise a family (not high on my list at the time as I was putting my husband through graduate school and was the only breadwinner in said family), they laugh and tell me I must be crazy and to stop making things up. Things are different.

The statisticians tell us that in the past 40 years, women's earnings have risen 44% vs. 6% growth for men. More women than men are enrolled in college now. Women make up 51% of managerial and professional jobs. In the current recession (dubbed the "mancession" by the media) more men than women have lost their jobs. Well, given that women earn 80 cents to every one dollar a man makes, of course an employer is going to lay off the more expensive employee -- in this case, it pays to be underpaid.

It may have taken us 40 years of feminism to get here, but apparently it didn't rub off on the other half of our species. The real threat isn't women are rising but rather that men are flatlining. For all our political correctness, it is still socially unacceptable for a man to stay home and care the for the children. It is still socially unacceptable for a man to prefer show tunes to football, to prefer baking to grilling, to cry. And as the headlines remind us, it is still socially unacceptable for a man's wife to be making more money than he.

I'd like to blame the opposite sex for this one, but I believe that both sexes are guilty of wrapping the gender straight jacket around men. We expect equality, but it is based on an old model in which women are equal to men. Where is it that we ask men to be equal to women? Why isn't the standard for the new manhood based on how well he cares for his children, how well he participates in the household chores, how well he shares his feelings -- rather than on how well he provides? Sure, women have made great strides, but it is time we make room for men to grow and change as well. The new economics requires both spouses to work. Let's celebrate when women are making more than their husbands, because this just may give men a chance to participate more fully within the family and the home.

The good news is that I believe this issue is generational. My male friends and relatives in their twenties would be thrilled to have a wife who earned more than they. These young men want to be available to jointly raise their children, do the grocery shopping, cook the dinner, and fold the laundry too. They couldn't care less who brings home the bacon as long it gets into the frying pan, somehow.

There will be a day when household income is simply a measure of financial well-being and not some political kerchief passed back and forth, an old fashioned two step in the gender wars. My hope is that it doesn't take another 40 years; my daughter's happiness depends on it.

Bloggers weigh in on the report:

Dr. Christine Whelan, author of Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women tells men to "say thank you, you lucky bastards."

Latoya Peterson observes that "it's true that more and more women are becoming the main breadwinners in the household but tremendous gains don't necessarily translate to paycheck parity." Read the posted comments for more on the topic

Finally, blogger Rachel muses on the report and decides the news is "hardly something to celebrate."

Dig deeper and you realize that for black women, there is little news; no mention of the rate of change of women who earn more than their husbands. In fact, the report seems to harp on the decline in marriage rates for blacks and almost buries the news that both financially and educationally, black women and men have made greater gains than other groups in the past 40 years. Seems to me, that's news. Further, it is more than curious that there is no mention about Asians, Latinas, or other women of color.

The Pew Center for Research released a report in 2008 indicating that women who earn as much or more than their spouses have equal or more say in household financial decisions. I guess second wave feminists were spot on: equal pay does equal rights. I can only hope that when we are finally post-post-post feminism, the trend will continue in our favor. Let's just hope it doesn't take another 40 long years. Right?


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