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What happens when women earn more than men?

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I’ve written about gender and money before. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman — for a lot of people, this is one of the greatest taboos you can possibly talk about (even more than people anonymously sharing their salaries).

Yes, men and women react to money differently. Yes, they have different scripts. And yes, I think it’s important to talk about it, instead of pretending money is the same for everybody.

Today, I want to talk about what happens when women earn more than men.

My friend Farnoosh Torabi, who has a new book out — When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women — wrote an interesting piece on women who earn more:

“The fact is, particularly for young ambitious females, the chances of finding an “equal” mate in terms of pay and education is statistically challenging. And even if you do land a first date with this guy, there may not be a second, for certain psychological reasons…”

Also, did you know that most young women now out-earn young men?

“According to a 2012 study by Reach Advisors, the median income of single women between the ages of 22 and 30 is now greater than the income of single men in that same age group in most cities throughout the country.”

I find this fascinating. What happens to social norms when women start earning more than men?

Behind closed doors, in the kinds of conversations my high-earning female friends would never let me share publicly, some of them tell me how challenging it is to find a partner because of their income.

If you’re a 28-year-old woman and your male partner suddenly found out you made 2x as much as he does, how would he react?

What if you’re a guy, and your partner finds out you make 2x what they do?

Is the situation any different if you’re a man or a woman?

I want to hear your stories. If you earn more than your partner, does it affect your relationship? How does gender play a role in your finances?

Share your stories in the comments below.

P.S. I once asked a question about gender and money on Twitter, where all responses are public. 95% of the responses were politically correct answers that made you nod your head. But then I looked in my inbox, which was flooded with private emails from people who were saying the exact opposite thing — only they wouldn’t admit it on Twitter. I want us to have an honest discussion, so if you want to answer anonymously in the comments below, feel free.

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  1. I earn more than my husband and it is not an issue. We combine money anyway so it is just more for the kitty. He is also aware that the industry I am in pays better than his does. If he had a problem with it, we wouldn’t be married.

    • Same here for us.
      Reading the second comment, we fall into category 2 of having married young and been together forever.

    • Another Stacey Link to this comment

      Same for me. I’ve been with my husband since college and it all gets pooled into the same account. A few years ago I jumped to a higher pay band and he was thrilled!

    • My wife and I are in the same position. While I’m unsatisfied at my own income, my wife’s in the perfect spot in an industry with a higher earning potential than mine.

      She makes big money but she doesn’t get benefits or sick time. Meanwhile, I work in IT for local government so my pay isn’t great but I get great benefits and 6 weeks a year off. If one of us is going to take time off for family, it’ll be me.

      And I’m okay with that. For the $55K in student loans she took out, she better make more than me. 😉

    • Same boat. I was the breadwinner until a few years ago when she switched from non-profit to for-profit. It’s been a rocket-ride for her ever since. I’m still in non-profit, and sometimes I wonder if I, too, should look to make a transition.

      Regarding our shared finances, when it comes to fun money, she earns more, so if she wants more, she gets more. We communicate on our financial goals and often are exactly on the same page, so we just execute on that plan. When we differ, we talk/discuss/argue, but almost always on the merit of an idea. She doesn’t automatically win because she makes more.

      But pragmatically, if it’s about inessential discretionary spending, her whims are satisfied first.

    • I fall into this category too. My wife and I are teammates pooling finances strategically towards the household expenses, side businesses, and investments. I previously earned much more than my wife, then I lost that job, and she gained one and now she earns much more than me, which gave me the opportunity to start a side business. Neither one of us compete with each other.

      Perhaps with married folks it is much different than with single individuals. Once you are married it is a team game, and these differences don’t mean that much, but for the singles scene, I’m sure that it could be intimidating for many men, especially if the same high income earning female would expect the male to pay for everything, or expensive things. That does not seem fair.

      Objectively however, the pay difference should not really be a consideration unless it is so great between the female and male that the lifestyles are wholly incompatible, but that applies in reverse as well.

    • My girlfriend whom we are planing to marry soon has never want me to know how much she earns. I am jobless but we met when i was working and she was jobless, i helped her until she got a job then sudenly she started being secretive.

  2. I am a female earning over $100k per year. I’m also single. Guys do get intimidated when they learn I make more than them. I honestly don’t care if a guy makes less than me, as long as he is hardworking and isn’t a lazy bum. But it seems to be a real barrier for a lot of men.

    I find that my high earning female friends tend to fall into three categories:
    1. Perpetually single, like me
    2. Married young and have been with their partners for years
    3. Met their significant others in graduate school (B-school, Med school), where it is expected that both partners will be high earners

    It’s frustrating…I feel like I’ll never meet Mr. Right. I’m just looking for a nice, loyal, fun guy who won’t be intimidated by my high salary and career ambitions. I do expect my potential mate to have a job, have goals, and have good financial habits, but the size of his paycheck really doesn’t matter to me.

    • I am in the same boat and agree with your comments. I find that most men that I have interests in common with may not make as much as me but they are also not flipping burgers at the local fast rood restaurant.

    • The social dynamics of this topic is very interesting.

      I’m not sure “intimidation” is the right word. I earn over 100k a year and have been doing so for several years. The girl I’m interested in now I would say is at her dream job (as Ramit would say) and most likely earning 200k minimum (300k+ average) per year.

      I’m not intimidated by her pay at all. The more she makes, the better since she’s a friend of mine (okay maybe a little bit of envy comes into play too but the “it makes me happy that she’s happy” outweighs the envy). What I am struggling with, and this is strictly something internal with me, is… will she think that I’m hardworking and isn’t a lazy bum because of the position she’s in compared to the position I’m in? Additionally, I’m also thinking… why isn’t she with another guy that is as successful as she is?

      As for your case, I know plenty of guys in my field making 100k+. I also get the feeling you probably know guys in your field that make as much as you do. So the question is… why aren’t you dating those guys?

    • Well first of all, in my opinion ,any man that says he doesn’t care if his wife or significant other makes more than him is full of crap. It is definitely an EGO thing, we are raised to believe we are the head of the household, the bred winner, the provider, the”MAN” of the house, so if your truly a man like I am, and think like I think, it should bother you!

    • In my experience, relationships with female breadwinners are not as successful as the more “traditional” relationship.

      Women want to admire and look up to their partner while men want to protect their more vulnerable partner. That’s been embedded in our genes (it’s science, not society) since Adam and Eve. Human sexual nature will not be denied.

      Also, many of us learned a *long* time ago to watch how women act and not necessarily what they say. Do you know how many women say, “I want a nice guy” and then date asshole after asshole. (See: aloof, not malicious).

      This case study might be worth a read: Why Girls Never Want Nice Guys — And Why It’s Too Late When They Do

      This quote stood out:

      She may believe she wants a nice guy, but in reality, she doesn’t want a nice guy. In her eyes, nice is weak – it’s boring. She wants excitement. She wants mystery, surprise, drama. She wants a bad boy.

    • High Earning Dude Link to this comment

      Does your income come up a lot in conversation with new guys?

      This year I have tripled my income in a new field due to some unexpected changes and opportunities and I find my opinions changing on females that earn well.

      In the past I may have had the “macho” feeling about income to either wanting or needing to be the breadwinner without actually ever thinking about it consciously.

      Now as I am finding myself around more well educated and financially literate women I am finding it very attractive.

      Maybe it is separating the “I want to take care of you” vibe from the income situation, but I find my priorities beginning to shift to a woman with high ambitions and the habits to go with that.

    • What if the guy earned 20k a year?

    • While it wouldn’t bother me in theory, I would worry about lifestyle incompatibility. That is, at a higher income level, a woman would be able to afford fancier restaurants, different types of entertainment, more expensive gifts, etc. I’d be afraid of not meeting up to her expectations by wanting to live within means. You don’t want to be the guy taking her to Applebees when she wanted the best steak in the city.

      To the women have said they don’t mind what a guy makes, would love to hear an opinion on my comment above.

    • I’m in the first boat. For my area, I have a high income. Most of the guys I’m surrounded by are blue collar workers. I find myself more attracted to intelligence and ambition than what my area can provide. I wouldn’t mind dating a grain bin worker (as a specific example) if he could keep up with me in conversations and challenge me. More often than not, they can’t.

      I, too, would like to be with someone but the last two relationships I’ve had haven’t worked out because I earned more and they couldn’t handle me paying for the lion’s share of activities.

    • there is a crisis , these older people in their late 30/40s who are already married and circumstances change where the women starts to earn more are irrelevant to the crisis .

      the problem its the younger pre 33 generation where women are out earning men ,when dating starts the guy feels emasculated if she earns more and many women do not want to marry below their wage .this is destroying relationships and the institution of marriage and family is dying . many guys are just dropping out of society, we are going the way of herbivore cultural japan

    • Thumps up you will find someone because there is always someone for everyone.

    • It’s great that you say that your income difference is not an important thing for you. But, are you SURE that it doesn’t, and that it won’t in a future with this hypothetical man?…

    • Great (used to be) Dane Link to this comment

      I am the one who gets intimidated.
      Met a woman 3 months ago earning 4 times as much as me, and even though I love her it is a constant “worry”.
      I have a huge problem choosing gifts for her as she can always “out buy” me. So instead of buying a necklace for her I don’t, knowing that I can buy would cost the same as she spends on a 2 hour taxi drive when she goes on vacation and don´t want to take the local bus to the hotel.

      Actually I found myself thinking of woman I met a couple of years ago, when I bought a scarf for her today, imagining how happy this equally intelligent but low earning woman would have been for that scarf. Now it will maybe be appreciated among the overwhelming bulk of clothes she already has. This thought made me sad and most important POWERLESS.

      We are also planning a double of vacations together. Same problem but different shape. My budget would be considerable lower than hers and I almost fear for where she wants to go and have dinner. Why should she want to go for less fancy food, when she actually could afford the best and on holidays? And maybe she will this time but what about the the long run?
      I would be annoyed if I had to hold back all the time, the same feeling you have when talking to people you feel is not your peer when it comes to knowledge and understanding of things in your line of business.

      And what if were to move together and buy a house or apartment? I could only buy something app. half of what she can and that means that we have to make a humiliating contract stating, that she owns 2/3 of our house and I 1/3. Same if getting married so why getting married.

      The difference in earning seriously diminish the joy of giving presents as the material value apparently (often) is a part of giving something away.
      Finding something to give away is equally difficult, as she has a lot of things and if not, just buys them. When traveling I will always know, that I´m the one who puts a brake on things and furthermore I will not be able to travel so far and often as she does.
      So money is surprisingly = power even though it is not a mental power it becomes one.

  3. HA! My husband would love it if I made more than him! As it is his earning potential is much higher than mine (I’m a teacher, he’s a software developer), so I’m currently a SAHM. He would love for the roles to be reversed!

    • Income is Income Link to this comment

      Absolutely! My wife’s a teacher and, if I’m being honest, I think her job’s 10x more valuable than mine – even though I work in engineering and make 2-3x what she does. I could care less who makes more…. any bump in household income is a serious positive in my mind.

    • Im 33 and single, im finding it hard to keep a man because i make more that 120k and they find out about it not because i told them, but because they look at the size of my house, my holiday travels i’ve been on and my potential to earn even more. they definitely are intimidated. The ones that make as much as i do are not intimidated but admitted unintentionally that in the past, they fell in love with women who needed help getting their life together and needed to be saved, women who needed rescue from a bad mother or an abusive ex-boyfriend, the waitress who had to drop out of school to work full-time to pay rent. Those are the women they wanted. They want to get the credit as the saviour who changed his girlfriend’s life around. A man will never admit that, but for the sake of this honest conversation, men should admit that weak side of theirs. I was that women who had to work 2 jobs to pay for school, i have seen how men rushed to my rescue but now i understand it was because of my situation. I was focused and got to where i am on my own, and now that im trying to finally settle down, i am realizing those same men found me more desirable when i was unstable than now when i an their match. In my opinion, this is a terrible threat to the future, a weakness than men need to work on because women of this time and age are successful and will continue to be successful.

  4. I currently make more than my husband, but he’s also in school and not working full time. He also hasn’t have debt while I have student loans. He has more ‘wealth’ than I do. After he graduates, he’ll be open to better paying jobs. He has no issue with the situation. As long as we can pay bills and have a few extras, there are no issues.

  5. My (live-in) BF makes quite a bit more than me. But he’s several years older and has an engineering PhD, I’m just out of grad school (MS).

    We’re both very liberal politically, so every once and a while it makes me feel sorta “anti-feminist,” which is silly! (Especially when I was still in school…he would pay for almost everything and it would make me feel guilty sometimes.) It doesn’t bother me or him (the difference isn’t because of our gender, just our chosen fields), and it hasn’t caused any problems in our relationship. We split bills/rent by percentage, which we both think is fair.

  6. I don’t tell my partner how much I make as I have 2 jobs and one of them is a contractor position so it depends on how business is. Regardless, I give a figure that accounts for my spending and bill paying plus a little bit for saving so that what I make won’t be an issue.

    We share certain expenses, we have enough money to travel and enjoy ourselves and anything beyond that is separate play money to do what we want with.

  7. I think it depends on the lifestyle that each partner desires. If she makes 2,3,4 times what I do, then great, its something for both of us to be proud of. The number itself would not cause any problem for me, but if my partner were to desire a lifestyle that cost significantly more than what I wanted, then this could cause an issue. Even if we made the same amount, there is a certain point to where I would not be willing to pay for a lifestyle that is in my eyes, excessive considering what I make. But if she wanted a higher lifestyle and was willing to pay more for it, then great, just dont say I dont pay for anything simply because you want more than I do. Dont get me wrong I am always wanting to make more and improve my lifestyle, but at each level of income there would always be an amount that I considered to be more than enough spending for me, and anything far past that amount my partner could choose whether or not that higher lifestyle was worth paying for with their own money.

  8. Your friend needs to be very careful in quoting the Reach study, since the finding she’s citing doesn’t control for education level. It makes her look at best ignorant and at worst intellectually dishonest. As a high-earning woman, I’d be very interested in her book, but not if that’s the quality of work she put into it.

    As for me and money: I started dating my partner when we were both broke. The only time it’s been an issue that one of us made more than the other was when one of us was unemployed. I currently make about 20% more than he does. I think part of what makes it okay is that I handle all the finances (thanks, Ramit) so money is my job. When I was the lower-earning partner but still handling the money, it was a little uncomfortable sometimes.

  9. I think it depends a great deal on the professions in question. If I signed up to be a firefighter or a social worker, I can’t get mad when someone working in pharmaceuticals makes twice as much, no matter if they’re male or female. But if I found out that my partner was making more than me for a similar job, or worse, a lesser job, I’d be little pissed. But hopefully that would motivate me rather than just leave me bitter. Single guy problems, I suppose.

  10. I imagine this is exactly what you’d expect to hear — as a high earning female (150+), I have always unconsciously assumed that I would have to marry someone in my field or another similarly high paying field (medicine, business, engineering, law etc) in order to respect my husband as my peer. It sounds astoundingly offensive when you write it out. Is someone who makes less money inherently less intelligent or not my peer? Of course not. And yet, the drive to find a male partner whose intelligence and abilities outrank my own is powerful.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more.

      In my late 20’s making $250k+ a year — its very difficult to meet someone who outranks me.

      And, while I don’t THINK that I need that… I can tell you that my sexual attraction is almost always aimed at people who outrank me, by the measures that I value (intelligence, ambition & power, physical strength)

      And yet, in my experience, those men tend to want someone who balances them (non-ambitious, very supportive, second fiddle-types) — not someone who shares their power and ambitions, or who has the potential to “outrank” them someday…

    • I’m not trying to be snarky, but would you guys mind unpacking this for me a bit? I commented downthread, but TLDR: I outearn my smart, educated, ambitious extremely good-looking and physically fit husband by a factor of way and always have. What is this “outranking” thing about? Intelligence? Physical strength? Money? Power? (What does “power” even mean?) If you had to decide on a date between a Navy SEAL or a hedge fund guy, which would you pick?

    • Lizzie –

      To answer your question for both Emily and Sarah, it depends on the specific NAVY Seal vs. the hedge fund guy.

      Which one is taller?

      Which one asserts himself more?

      Which one apologizes more?

      Which one has more friends?

      Which one is funnier/more charismatic?

      Most men are relatively simple creatures. Is she pretty? Is she physically fit? Does she behave in a “feminine” way? Is she easy going? Does she refrain from cursing all the time like one of the guys?

      Women on the other hand… complicated. For them, attraction goes so. far. beyond. what a guy looks like. His smile. His walk. The way he carries himself. His shoes. For cripes sakes, women care about a dude’s shoes. The insanity. (Okay, so they care that *he* cares enough to wear nice/take care of his shoes, but still).

      If the hedge fund guy makes 500K, but is 5’7″, scrawny, always apologetic, tries too hard, won’t pick a place to eat or a movie to rent (“No, baby, you pick. I want to do whatever you want to do” and on and on), etc. then both would prefer the NAVY Seal.

      My hypothesis, which if I wasn’t at work, I could likely find some scientific support for is that high earning women typically want “more powerful” men (whatever that means and/or entails).

      This is why there are legitimate studies showing that men who do “female” chores have sex much less often.

      Also, from the opposite vantage point:

      1.) Based on societal standards many men are insecure if their partner earns more than them.
      2.) For others it’s not that the they dislike women who earn lots of money. It’s that many of those women have adopted what our society deems to be “masculine” traits in order to succeed in a “man’s world.” (i.e. Men do not like TO MARRY – sleeping with is a different story – high powered, confrontational, always-right, aggressive women).

      And that is why ‘traditional’ marriages where the male is the breadwinner are statistically much more successful in the long run.

      But alas, the times… they are a ‘changing.

    • This is a great thread with some very insightful comments.

    • Just Some Guy, I already know all that stuff. I’ve read the studies. That is why I was asking these two specific women to fill in the blanks, because that mindset is very alien to me; I’m not that way, none of my friends are that way. I get your points, but you yourself admit that you don’t know what is meant by the ambiguous word “power.”

      I used to have a guy reporting to me who was a tank company commander in Iraq when he was 26. That’s a billion dollars of equipment and enough firepower to destroy most of a town. It would be difficult to argue that he was not more powerful, in very meaningful ways, than a 26-year-old working at Google making $300K. (He was probably in better physical shape, too.) John Cena is probably physically stronger than the commander of the 82nd Airborne, but Jamie Dimon makes more money than both of them put together. Who among them is the alpha?

      And for the record, my husband wears Church’s shoes, and he takes immaculate care of them. And I didn’t notice until we had been married for five years.