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”.
An extremely interesting study 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.
How to avoid problems if it is the wife/female partner who earns more?
Whether a woman’s bigger paycheck will lead to conflict largely depends on our standards, values and beliefs, both those we are aware of, and those that we subscribe to without even realizing it. The things we experienced in our own family homes have an important impact on our attitudes, but we do not have to be blindly enslaved to them in all respects. Many of my coachees say that they have put a lot of effort into making their relationships, attitudes to life, work and raising children different from those instilled in them by their parents.
I believe that a key contributor to building meaningful relationships is being able to talk about difficult matters and emotions in an open way, based on trust towards your partner. It is unacceptable to use your financial advantage to humiliate or subjugate your partner – this applies to both men and women. Teasing your partner about their income, especially in company, or ostentatiously emphasizing your higher earnings is especially hurtful and may be even more profoundly distressful for men, undermining their self-esteem.
In a healthy relationship, the partner who earns less should be shown what they are appreciated and admired for and how important their contribution to the family’s wellbeing is. It is worth emphasizing that a person should not be judged through the prism of their earnings. In addition, while talking to your partner, make sure you do not mock other people you know just because they make less money.
The labour market is becoming increasingly more dynamic. As technology develops and social changes take hold, new professions emerge. The level of income in particular industries may change as compared to other jobs. Everyone will change employers several times during their professional career. Many people will entirely change their profession. You need to be flexible and accept the fact that it is next to impossible to anticipate how attractive your salary will remain over the years as compared to the salaries of other people, including your partner.
If you stick to obsolete attitudes and social norms, you will likely experience a lot of stress, also in terms of sharing responsibilities and chores within the household. Openness, co-responsibility and a partnership-based approach is in the best interest of both men and women. It helps to reduce stress and defuse conflicts.
 After: Size does matter. Paycheck size does matter for Polish couples, by: jm.https://www.pulshr.pl/wynagrodzenia/rozmiar-ma-znaczenie-grubosc-portfela-wazna-dla-polskich-par,19082.html
 Joanna Syrda, Spousal Relative Income and Male Psychological Distress, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219883611