Couples tend to underestimate how much what’s going in our society as a whole affects their marriage. Cultural norms and expectations about men, women and families play into our relationships, whether we agree with them or not.
And sometimes those norms and expectations change more slowly than the realities of our lives — which gives today’s busy couples yet one more thing to navigate.
Take family income, for example. In 2017, Pew Research Center found that in almost one-third of U.S. cohabitating couples, women brought home at least half of the earnings. That’s a big leap from 1981, when that figure was just 13%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 38% of wives earn more than their husbands.
While women’s earning power has increased over the years, there’s been less change in our perceptions of who “should” be the breadwinner.
The Pew Center also reports that 71% of adults believe that a good husband or partner should support his family financially. Only 32% say the same of women. On top of that, a study by a Harvard professor found that couples are at a nearly 33% greater risk of divorce when the husband doesn’t work full time.
All of this is important information to be aware of if you make more money than your husband does. The two of you could face criticism (veiled or otherwise) from friends and family, especially if your husband stays home with the kids — which means the two of you are breaking another norm.
You might also discover that the income disparity brings up some surprising feelings for both of you. In theory, both of you may have always supported the idea that it doesn’t matter which spouse makes more money. But, in practice, you might run up against some ideas about men and women left over from the way you were raised — ideas that you weren’t even aware affected you anymore!
None of this means that there’s anything wrong with how your family’s income breaks down. It’s up to you and your husband to decide together how much money you need and what you both want from your careers and your work-life balance. The important thing is just to understand the power of these entrenched expectations, how they might play out in your relationship and how you can manage these challenges together.
For more tips on negotiating all of the expectations and pressures of marriage today, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love.