When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women (due out May 1).Money can be a thorny subject for couples at all income levels and life stages. But the emergence of female breadwinners has created a new dynamic and raised new questions for many couples. Finance expert Farnoosh Torabi is among these trailblazers and explores this dynamic in her new book
In anticipation of her new book, I chatted with Torabi to find out what’s driving this trend, how it impacts couples, and why it can benefit both genders. What follows is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity.
When did this trend of bread-winning women start? What’s contributing to this shift?
Farnoosh Torabi: The recession really shed a lot of light on women supporting their families. We’ve seen women take on the breadwinner role, and this has been happening gradually over decades. That stems from women doing better in school, getting better grades, graduating in higher numbers from college and graduate school. Then the job market has been in some ways more advantageous for women. The recession really hurt men while female-oriented industries like healthcare, education, and nursing are predicted to be some of the fastest growing job markets through 2016.
We’re entering a really exciting time for women but also for men. For men who are with women who make more, this can be a great opportunity for them to explore a career or a passion that they normally may not have. Traditionally, the pressure for men has been to be the breadwinners in their families and that might have forced them to pursue a job just to get the paycheck. One way that couples can really thrive in this dynamic is for women to invest in their husbands, whether it means them going back to school or switching industries or even moving to an area of the country that might be more plentiful with the kind of work that they want to do.
What other positive impacts can this new paradigm have on couples?
Torabi: Hopefully the women have a supportive husband who celebrates their ambition and wants to support that. Some women have admitted to me they feel more at peace in a boardroom as opposed to changing diapers. For these women, this is like the ideal situation for them. I think there are a lot of men out there who’d rather stay home and take care of their family. For couples who are able to transcend gender role expectations, this can mean a whole new dynamic in the family where he’s taking care of the kids and she’s working and that works for them.
Our brains have not really caught up to this societal shift. Men still want to be providers and women still want to be, in a sense, taken care of. When there is a huge shift, it kind of puts your identity up in the air. I think for men, that’s where they start to question their purpose and women start to overcompensate where they are doing more housework because they want to kind of maintain some resemblance of the status quo.
How can we keep a woman’s higher income from undermining the man’s self-esteem and the health of the relationship?
Torabi: It starts with acknowledging your underlying emotions about this paradigm shift and being honest with one another. Money, whether we like it or not, is a source of power. Whoever’s making more money, it doesn’t mean that they’re more worthy, it doesn’t mean that they’re more powerful. Couples need to respect that and the person that’s making less should not assume that their voice doesn’t matter.
If she’s making a lot more than him or even a little bit more than him, we need to make his income matter. I wouldn’t necessarily have his income pay for gas and incidentals. You want it to have to go towards substantial things like college savings, retirement, your next vacation, the down payment on your next car.
Couples should always talk about money on a regular basis, but likely there’s one person who’s going to be on top of it, making sure that they’re taxes get done, making sure that their 401(k) is getting rebalanced. If he is able to do it and enjoys doing it, have him be that point person. We do find that when she makes more she assumes more accountability with the finances, whether she likes it or not. Sometimes he feels like it’s not his place because he makes less money. Couples need to find a more balanced financial rhythm to not only take the stress off her, but also to make him feel more engaged.
Photo credit: Getty Editorial and MariaSchriver.com