Will, a friend of mine just got a major job offer, which will bump up his salary by several thousand dollars each month. For someone still in their late twenties, that is a very big accomplishment. When we went out to celebrate though, he wasn’t celebrating the hard work, long hours, loss of any semblance of a social life and many many hours of study that it took to get him there. Instead he was celebrating the fact that now he was earning more than his girlfriend. In fact, he even toasted to it, saying: “Finally, I’m the man of the house again!”
A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center showed that in all but three of the 150 biggest cities in this country, young women out earn young men. However, another Pew survey found that 67% of Americans said that in order to be ready for marriage, a man should be able to financially support his family, while only 33% said the same for women. Why the disparity?
I like to think that me and my friends are mature enough and evolved enough to look beyond the “female housewife, male breadwinner” stereotype that was typical for our grandparents generation, and understand that in this day and age, we can be whoever we want to be and work (or not work) wherever we want to work, regardless of our gender. As such, whenever I heard people talk about “a woman’s role” being in the household rather than the workforce, or listened to people argue about how emasculating it can be for some men to be with a woman who earns more than them, I looked at them like they were crazy and sat quietly silently judging them.
But are we really as evolved and forward thinking in regards to the female breadwinner as we thought?
Will’s comment startled me because it made me realize that maybe we’re not as advanced in our thinking as I want to believe. When he said it, most of the reactions from our friends were to rib him about being a “woman” and jokingly ask him for recipes because obviously as the woman, he must cook all the meals. As lighthearted and harmless as the comments were, I couldn’t help but think that maybe, even unconsciously, we do still expect men to earn more than women. After thinking about it, I found that, even in a lighthearted way, my female friends and I joke about marrying a rich guy so we don’t have to worry about job interviews, debt, retirement savings. We make fun of women we think are “gold-diggers” or women (like the cast of “Basketball Wives”) who seem to get ahead in life because of their husbands, yet we probably would be quite satisfied if our husbands or boyfriends were more successful than us (but we would never admit it). And, as displayed by Will, apparently the same sort of thinking still goes for men too. And not just my friends, but the whole society.
Slate tackled the issue of female breadwinners, and they surmised that “such a vast shift in earning power [with females earning more] suggests that the next generation may make different decisions about whose salary counts more and who should be the family’s primary breadwinner.” However, our reactions about, and expectations of, specific gender roles tend to suggest otherwise.
An editorial in Marie Claire suggested that;
“the truth is that, while most men are attracted to women with power (and money is a vehicle for power), we do not want powerful women for partners. The idea of a woman that desires, earns, and achieves more is scary. Most men simply do not want to compete with their partners for power. Our partners can earn, do, and achieve slightly more than us and we’re fine with it. It’s a fun and friendly competition, and it helps keep us honest and focused. If, however, you eclipse us to the point that we can’t out earn or success you, we’ll lose interest faster than you can say “corner office.”