Divorce rates rise to 50% when a woman earns more than her husband.
There were many reasons my marriage failed. But our traditional role reversal pushed us over the edge: I was a breadwinner wife.
I’d opted to go freelance before I had children knowing this was probably my best chance of working flexibly while continuing to earn a decent wage.
But I had never expected to be the sole breadwinner. I had certainly never expected to have to go back to work quite so soon after having my children, just to make ends meet.
It didn’t help our marriage that my ex spent eight years out of work (despite my encouragement to find a job). Or that his drinking and controlling behavior became steadily worse over time.
They were eight years of living within the same four walls, under the same roof, bringing up young children, never getting any space away from one another.
As his self-esteem plummeted, it seemed the only way he could cope with my stress and resentment and his feelings of inadequacy was to criticise me and my parenting.
We stopped working as a team and increasingly, it felt as though we were in competition. Rather than building each other up, we were pulling each other down. Ultimately, it ended just over a year ago when I left him and filed for divorce.
Half of non-traditional marriages fail
Sadly, my story is far from unique. Divorce rates rise to 50% when a woman earns more than her husband, according to a study from the University of Chicago.
It found the percentage of people who report being “very happy” with their marriage declines when a woman out-earns her husband.
One explanation for this, the researchers suggest, is that a wife making more money is also doing more chores to assuage her husband’s unease.
The research found that breadwinning wives tend to downplay their financial contributions, defer to their husbands in decision making, and do a disproportionate amount of housework. It suggests there is a concerted effort from both parties in such marriages to overlook the wife’s financial contribution and career success, resulting in a lack of recognition.
Serving as both the primary breadwinner and the primary homemaker is also excessively draining. And that’s before you even get into the additional mental load many wives take on (organizing birthdays, social occasions, household schedules and holidays etc).
The exhaustion that results from taking all this on, the researchers point out, “may be one of the mechanisms behind our results on divorce.” No kidding!
Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater
Moreover, men who are financially dependent are more likely to cheat, according to research in the American Sociological Review. Anecdotally, I know of several relationships where yummy mummies in the schoolyard proved too much of a temptation for part-time or stay-at-home dads.
“I hypothesize that the more economically dependent a married man is on his partner, the greater his likelihood of engaging in infidelity,” writes author Christin Munsch in the ASR. “Extramarital sex allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their breadwinning spouse.”
Cheating may also be a more likely consequence in marriages where sex is not a regular occurrence within a marriage. A nonexistent sex life can also be attributed to traditional gender role reversal, according to Ralph Gardner, in his article for New York magazine, ‘Alpha Women, Beta Men’.
In it, he quotes PR executive Anna, who admits: “Sex was not a problem for [my ex]. It was a problem for me. When someone seems like a child, it’s not that attractive. In the end, it felt like I had three children.”
These are not the best ingredients for a happy marriage!
Statistics suggest that around 40% of women in heterosexual relationships are now the primary breadwinner. With this figure expected to grow, what does it mean for the future of marriage?
When half of all marriages fail – with the average cost of divorce soaring to a current high of £70,000 in the UK – will modern couples begin to question whether they should bother?
Ours, unfortunately, is a pioneering generation and hence, it is our marriages being put to the test. As gender roles evolve, both men and women need to strike a better balance that will support the longevity of their relationships, particularly when children come along.