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When Wife Earns More Than Her Husband


    If couples were asked the question, “Are you okay if the wife earns more than the husband?” chances are they would answer, “Yes!” with conviction.

    Times are changing and gone are the days when the wife’s role was to take care of the house and children, while the husband brought home the bacon. 

    However, this is not what the 2018 paper from US Census Bureau reveals. Based on the study, when the wife earns more than the husband, respondents are more likely to under-report the wife’s earnings and over-report the husband’s earnings. 

    This interesting study compared what the husbands and wives reported as their earnings and with their “true” earnings based on administrative tax records.

    Why so? Because believe it or not, we are still affected by the social norm that it is the husband’s duty to earn a living for the family. In double income families, the husband is still expected to have a higher contribution to the family income; otherwise, there is a “violation” of the social norm and they try to narrow the gap in their responses. They inflate the husband’s income and deflate the wife’s income. Check this out. Wives reported earning 1.5% less than they actually did, while husbands reported earning 2.9% higher than what they actually did. That is why the study is aptly entitled Manning Up and Womaning Down.


    In another study conducted by economists at the University of Chicago using census data from 1970 to 2000, it was found out that marriages in which the wives earned more were more likely to end in divorce. Moreover, wives who out-earned their husbands were more likely to seek jobs beneath their potential, again in order to narrow down the gap (consciously or subconsciously) to comply with the social norm. 

    What’s interesting to note is that even if the wives earned more, they still did more of the housework and child care. 

    To know more about these studies, you may download them by clicking the links provided below.

    The repercussions of violating the social norm

    It may be safe to assume that the household is more peaceful if this social norm of the husband earning more than the wife is not violated. We have seen a lot of movies and have heard actual life stories of husbands being threatened by the wife’s earning capacity that they would resort to all sorts of shenanigans. I will not give a sweeping statement that it’s just the husbands fault of being insecure then resorting to womanizing, etc., nor will I blame the high-income earning wives for emasculating their husbands. It’s more complicated than that. It’s the human wiring that wants to abide by the rules and norms. There is pressure from family and society who all have opinions about the set up. 

    The good news is that there are a number of highly functioning families where the husband and wife are able to embrace the nontraditional set-up. We have in fact, coined the term house husband. If I may say, all these husbands must be really secure of themselves and know that their masculinity is not equated to their income contribution and their role is so much more than just bringing home the bacon. 

    Nonetheless, we cannot deny the fact that this nontraditional set-up still puts a strain in relationships. 

    In another study on the relationship of spouses’ relative income to infidelity published by the American Sociological Review (see link below), they found out that when husbands earn less than their wives, they are more likely to cheat, probably to compensate for feeling emasculated. But still, the same study shows that breadwinning also increases infidelity among husbands. The more they earn, the less satisfied they become with their wives’ physical appearance. 

    On the other hand, breadwinning wives are less likely to cheat, remaining faithful in order to neutralize their gender deviance and keep potentially strained relationships intact.

    Interestingly, the least likely to cheat couples are those who earn more or less the same amount of money.

    What now?

    Simplistically looking at the above studies might put the husbands in bad light, characterizing them as male chauvinists and depicting the wives as the martyrs. It may also give us the wrong impression that husband and wife need to be earning almost the same income for their marriage to survive.

    I don’t think so. What I’d like to propose is that husband and wife, or even before they become so, should really sit down and talk about money seriously. Yes, love and commitment are the essential ingredients of a lasting and successful marriage. But money is the necessary fuel that will make you survive, fulfill your dreams and thrive as a married couple. Because of this, it is imperative that spouses are on the same page when it comes to money. Discuss your money values, set financial and other goals together. When you are united on the money front, it wouldn’t matter anymore who earns more for both incomes are for the benefit of your family, the basic unit of our society. Understand what money law governs your marriage. Is it the Conjugal Partnership of Gains or the Absolute Community of Property? We will discuss these two governing laws in our next article. 

    For the meantime, accept that there are social norms about income contributions and they may affect you knowingly and unknowingly. And the best defense against strained marriage due to income issues is really to talk about money openly and healthily as husband and wife. Have your FQ journey together and living happily ever after will be a bit easier. For starters, take the FQ Test together.



    Studies cited in the article can be downloaded from the following links:

    1. US Census Bureau study Manning Up and Womaning Down
    2. Study by the University of Chicago
    3. Study published by American Sociological Review


    Rose Fres Fausto is FQ Mom (FQ stands for Financial Intelligence Quotient). She was an investment banker turned full-time homemaker and now a writer and speaker on money and family. She’s a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and Behavioral Economist, having trained under Dan Ariely, the Father of B.E. Richard Thaler, and recently completed a B.E. course at the Harvard Business School. She wrote bestsellers Raising Pinoy Boys, The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions), FQ: The nth Intelligence. She has a weekly column in PhilStar.com and regularly contributes to other magazines. 

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    AUTHOR BIO Rose Fres Fausto is FQ Mom. FQ stands for Financial Intelligence Quotient. Investment banker turned full-time homemaker, she is now a writer and speaker on money and family.

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