Higher earning female partner

Although statistically speaking women still earn less that men for doing exactly the same job, in some relationships it is the woman who is the main income provider. Does it always have to lead to conflict and hurt the male ego? How can you avoid a woman’s larger paycheck becoming a source of problems in the relationship?

Anna Daria Nowicka

Women’s higher salaries and male stress

Both popular opinion and results of social studies invariably indicate that being in a relationship with a woman who earns more often causes discomfort in her male partner. According to Zbigniew Lew-Starowicz, a sexologist and expert of the “Zarobki bez tabu” (“Earnings without taboos”) campaign: “In therapy, women have no problem revealing who the family’s main earner is. There is a clear difference when it comes to men – they are reluctant to admit that their female partners earn more than them. Gender stereotypes are still going strong. Moreover, men who earn less than their partners feel uncomfortable and are inclined to read too much into the way their significant others treat them”.[1]

An extremely interesting study [2]was conducted by the Polish researcher Joanna Syrda, PhD, an economist working at the University of Bath’s School of Management, between 2001 and 2015, with a sample size of more than 6,000 heterosexual couples in the USA. She analysed the level of stress experienced by men depending on the share of their wives’ income in the overall household budget. It turned out that the relationship between the two is U-shaped: men felt most comfortable when the women’s income accounted for 40% of their joint proceeds – it was when the men’s stress levels were lowest. They rose both when the woman was fully financially dependent on the man and when the man was fully dependent on the woman. In the latter case, stress levels in men reached maximum values – they were also higher than when the man was the family’s only breadwinner.

Another important conclusion from the study was that the relationship between women’s higher income and elevated stress levels in men was not noticeable in couples where the woman has always made more money since the beginning.

The above goes to show that the vast majority of men feel mentally overburdened by being the family’s only breadwinners and that they appreciate the woman’s contribution into the family budget. However, they feel best when that contribution is a bit smaller than their own. Another important conclusion is that it is easier for men to accept their partners’ higher earnings if it has always been that way – it is more difficult to accept the disproportion if the man was the main earner for a while, but then the tables have turned.