I left a career I love to move to Atlanta to support my wife’s career ambitions. My current professional responsibilities take a back seat to her responsibilities and our family’s. We plan on continuing this arrangement until our youngest child graduates high school in 2026.
I’ll say the quiet part of this out loud: My wife is now the family breadwinner.
She’s not alone. The role of women in the workforce has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. Almost 40% of American women now earn more than their husbands, and more women than men are earning associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees.
Dual-income households have continued to rise and have been the majority for the past two decades, while households with long-term, full-time stay-at-home parents continue to decline and are now the minority.
Simply put, the American household is evolving from gender-based, compartmentalized roles in the home to practical and fluid roles based on circumstances and skill sets.
Embrace your role
Women are advancing in the workplace, but societal support for alternative relationship structures is lagging. Many men and women alike continue to prefer the husband to be the primary breadwinner, in line with generations of societal norms and modeled behavior.
Being married to a breadwinner wife can be particularly hard on men. Research has found that men tend to see a partner’s success as their own failure, so when female partners succeed, they are more likely to feel worse about themselves. The point at which men feel the least amount of distress is when their wives make 40% of the total household income.
Marriages of female breadwinners are 50% more likely to end in divorce. There could be several reasons for this beyond the male psyche. For example, women working longer hours may feel guilty about being away from home. Another factor could be that men married who rely solely on their wives are three times more likely to have an extramarital affair.
What’s the lesson? Partners should embrace their roles in the home. What works best for a couple is what makes couples happiest — not what society thinks should work best.
The division of labor at home should be fair
The more a man depends financially on his wife, the less housework he does, even if he is unemployed. Perhaps women feel the societal pressure to shoulder managing the home and trying to make up for it by doing even more than their fair share of chores.
Fairness isn’t always equal. When a spouse spends more time away from home working, the other spouse can pitch in by taking on more chores in the home.
For much of my career, I worked 60- to 80-hour work weeks while my wife did not work outside the home or part-time. Now she is working longer hours while my career responsibilities are flexible. How we have divided up the tasks at home has primarily been dictated by our time, our natural skill sets, and what we enjoy — not what society believes we should be doing.
This is our approach, but it is not the norm. Women still do most of the unpaid work within the home and spend more time caring for children.
But things are changing. There has been an increase in the number of stay-at-home fathers in recent years, and men report a strong desire to spend more time with their families. Many men are happiest when making an equal contribution to household chores.Research by the University of Cambridge found that men, not women, benefited from a less-traditional gender role divide in household chores.
When deciding who should be responsible for what inside the home, consider time and outsourcing. Research shows that outsourcing increases relationship satisfaction. Some examples of outsourcing include hiring a lawn service, meal delivery and house cleaning.
After outsourcing tasks, divide the remaining tasks fairly. I recommend considering a comprehensive approach using Fair Play cards, which complement Eve Rodsy’s book Fair Play.
Others divide responsibilities based on skill sets and preferences, which was the approach taken by Modern Husbands Ambassadors Dan and Kim Kadlec, and the original approach my wife and I have taken.
Finally, the recurring advice we continue to hear is that regular communication is essential. Ashley Whillans, a Harvard professor and expert in time, money and happiness, shared this with us on our podcast. It also came up in Fair Play. Whillans stressed the importance of two partners meeting daily or weekly to discuss what needs to be done that day or week for the home to run smoothly.
Go on a ‘money date’
Do you understand your own relationship with money and what money means to you? What about your spouse? Consider completing the Money Scripts Inventory Assessment developed by Brad Klontz to determine your current financial health and to help you and your spouse prepare for a conversation about money.
Use these conversations and the financial information you have in hand to establish shared financial goals based on your values and the steps needed to be financially healthy. Experts refer to these scheduled conversations as “money dates” –uninterrupted time to talk about money in a relaxed setting where you’re not rushed.
Brian Page is the founder of Modern Husbands, which provides men with advice about money, marriage and family matters.