The New Norm: Women Can Earn More Than Men, and That’s OK
For a long time, dating etiquette was pretty straightforward. You asked a woman out on a date, you paid for it, end of story. You were the one with the job, the one in control and if things got more serious, you were expected to support her financially — particularly if you became husband and wife. Then things changed.
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Today, most of the old rules can more or less be thrown out the window. Not only do women no longer expect men to be the sole breadwinners, they often out-earn their male peers.
As a result, guys can no longer bank on the prospect of having more money to throw around than the women they’re dating with any sense of certainty, and that changing financial reality has also changed the core dating dynamic in various ways.
So what does love look like when many women are earning more than the men they’re dating? Let’s find out.
1. Why Women Are Making More Money
First, in order to understand what the new reality is like, it’s important to understand where it came from. Namely, what changed? Where did this new financial situation emerge from?
“There are several reasons,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.” “Women have become more assertive, standing up for equal pay. Women are more educated now. Recent studies show there are more women than men attending college. More education tends to mean higher pay. There are more women in corporate executive jobs, as well as women doctors and lawyers, who earn higher pay than the less educated.”
NYC-based dating coach Connell Barrett agrees that higher education attendance is a major factor.
“More women go to college than men, so the wage gap is shrinking,” he says. “Pew Research Center shows that women age 25-34 earn 90 cents to every dollar earned by men of that age. Plus, 40 percent of women are the main breadwinners in the family. This issue isn’t going away.”
Cultural, financial, sociological and even technological changes over the past few decades have also drastically shifted the landscape of who gets paid more, and why.
Statistics show that manufacturing jobs, traditionally the province of men, have started to become outsourced overseas or automated out of existence. Meanwhile, so-called “soft skill” jobs that line up well with women’s tendencies to be better communicators than men have become more prominent.
Birth control technology has improved, too, meaning women are less likely to be saddled with raising a child in the case of an unexpected pregnancy than ever before. Research suggests that reproductive freedom — visible in a drop in birth rate and a shift towards an older age at first pregnancy for American women in recent years — has meant that women are in a position to spend more time focusing on their careers, not raising a child.
2. How to Respond When Your Partner Earns More Than You
All those changes have resulted in situations where men are now regularly ending up in relationships or marriages with women who out-earn them, often by a significant amount.
It’s a situation that many men weren’t prepared for by their parents, their peer groups or the culture at large, leaving them unable to adapt as a result.
“Men can get weird about money because as a guy, you’re incorrectly taught that what you earn equals your self-worth,” says Barrett. It’s easy for a guy to think that “if the woman he’s dating has a bigger paycheck, his very identity and worth as a man is threatened.”
Some men are turned off by the very idea of dating high-earning women to begin with, preferring to seek out situations where they feel more powerful as the main money-maker in the relationship. Others are initially fine but become more difficult over time as the reality sets in.
As well, the dynamic sometimes doesn’t manifest until after a couple gets together. Perhaps the guy’s initially the main breadwinner, but once his partner’s salary begins to outpace his, there’s a change in the way relationship functions in more challenging ways over time.
That being said, as strange as it can be for one or both partners to adapt to, a female breadwinner-male dependent relationship isn’t a death knell by any means.
“It doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” says Tessina. “Men are branching out into more creative (therefore, usually lower-paid) endeavors. It’s OK these days for men to stay home, be writers, artists, or craftsmen, and take more responsibility for their children and households.”
3. Can You Still Be Considered a Man If You Make Less Than Her?
One of the biggest issues when it comes to a woman making more than her male romantic partner — whether he’s her husband, her boyfriend, or something less defined — is the notion that men need to earn more in order to be a real man.
The notion of that the man must be the top provider is so ingrained in our societal and cultural expectations of men that certain women do have similar expectations, going as far to find low-earning men less attractive as a result.
This dynamic isn’t exactly tied to the recent rise of higher-earning women. In fact, any guy who’s had his worth questioned due to not owning a nice car or scheduling dates at fancy restaurants can attest to the fact that money can very much be a factor when it comes to the dating market.
That being said, Tessina thinks guys often worry more about this reality than they need to.
“When a woman can earn sufficient income on her own, she’s not as focused on finding a man who can support her,” she says. “There are many two-income couples now, and in some of them, men earn less.”
Barrett agrees, noting that what can be the most unattractive about a lower-earning man is when he’s the one obsessed with how less of a man it makes him feel.
“The typical woman doesn’t care if her man earns less than she does. She’ll only care if he cares,” he says. “If a guy gets weird about money, it’s that insecurity, not the number of zeroes on his paycheck, that lowers his standing in her eyes. Women want men who believe in their inherent worth. So, don’t be weird! Wigging out about a wage disparity could cause her to lose attraction.”
4. Dos and Don’ts When You’re Not the Breadwinner
When approaching a relationship that finds your salary left in the dust by your partner’s, try not to obsess over it.
“Don’t focus on how much each of you is earning, especially if it upsets you,” says Tessina. “Relationships are not competitions. Fairness in distribution of responsibilities is much more important than who makes how much.”
Barrett suggests a similar tactic, noting that money discussions are a great opportunity to prove to your partner that you’re not insecure about the situation.
“If money comes up, keep your cool,” he advises. “Accept the fact that she makes more bread than you do.”
Going one step further, you can even reframe the situation as one where, rather than being disappointed in yourself, you’re impressed by her.
“Compliment her on her awesome career,” adds Barrett. “Most women love men with a feminist streak. Tell her how it’s about damn time that women get paid as much or more than men do.”
As true as that is, many women, sometimes even the same women, love a man who has some concrete value to bring to the relationship. While that used to be a steady paycheck, in today’s world it can be all kinds of different things. Having ambitious goals for your life can take the place of a six-figure salary, too.
“Maybe you’re not yet making big bucks, but you have a plan,” explains Barrett. “Play up your big ideas and your ambitions. Women love a man with big plans. Remember, she likes you in large part because you’re a man of purpose and ambition who knows who he is and who treats her well. Your salary is almost irrelevant.”
There are also tangible ways you can make things easier — being comfortable enough with the money conversation to take an active part in it, even when it means confronting the fact that you’re not contributing as much as you’d like to.
“Work out an equitable arrangement for sharing expenses, perhaps a percentage-based one; based on how much of your mutual income each of you earns,” says Tessina. “If you’re building a future together, learn to talk about money as math. ‘We need this much to buy a house: how much can you contribute, how much can I contribute?’”
Of course, relationships require a lot more than just money to function. Considering that, Tessina suggests you “offer to contribute in other ways than making money.”
That can mean taking on more chores, being there in a real and tangible way for your partner when she’s feeling exhausted from work or making a bigger share of the plans for both of you.
At the end of the day, none of the above is going to work if you’re still operating in a mindset where your worth is inherently tied to your financial situation. As difficult as it can be to unhook the two concepts from each other, your relationship is never going to flourish until you can, and it might end in the interim if you can’t make strides.
“Learn to understand that how much you make doesn’t equal your value,” says Tessina. “If your partner is OK with it, then let it be OK.”
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