When the Wife is the Breadwinner: Changing Household Dynamics

Marriage and Income

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, 29 percent of wives earned more than their husbands in a dual income home. These changes in income distribution within the home also mean changes in the family dynamic. How we view our social roles in relation to income and how we approach financial planning in a marriage may also drastically change.

Income’s Effect on Marriage Stability

New studies reveal that women’s gains in income may be contributing to a decline in forming and maintaining stable marriages. These studies find that traditional views of gender roles and identity are affecting our choices of whom to marry, how much to work, and our decision to divorce. The traditional view that the proper role of the husband is to make more money than the wife is being directly threatened.

The studies suggest that one reason for the decrease may be that the more money women earn, the more financially stable and independent they become and the more willing they are to get out of a bad marriage. Financial independence has always been an important factor in whether a spouse decides to divorce.

Further, the studies suggest that the traditional male/female social norms within a relationship are now being challenged. Some men may be uncomfortable with not being the primary earner in the family and feel displaced from their traditional role. The husband may feel like he is not bringing any value to the relationship. This may lead to a power struggle or conflict within the relationship.

The couple can avoid violating the “man earns more” social norm if the woman works part time or leaves the labor force altogether. However, other challenges arise if the husband does not increase his responsibilities over child-rearing or taking part in the household chores.

Income’s Effect on Financial Planning

In a recent study by the Pew Research Institute, it found that mothers are providing more than half the income in 15 percent of married households with children at home, up from 3.5 percent in 1960. Still, on average, women’s pay is less than men’s overall.

However, when a woman is the breadwinner in the family, she is more likely to make day-to-day and long-term financial decisions for the family. Research has found that 62 percent of women who earn more than their husbands pay the bills, 56 percent of women also monitor the household spending, and 59 percent of them do the family budgets and savings. These findings underscore the vital role women are now playing in the financial decision-making within families today.

How Is the Workplace Addressing These Changes?

Just because a woman makes more does not mean she is given more respect in the workplace. Many companies and organizations are slow to adapt, despite advances in technology that make it much easier to do some or all of one’s work from home. They often do not have a good structure in place to provide enough support for the modern couple who may need paid leave to help a family member or get appropriate child care.

Tips for Making a Relationship Work When Women Earn More than Men


Communicating with your partner is the most important step in finding a common understanding and balance in the relationship. Be honest and open from the beginning about each others goals and expectations for the relationship and express your fears and reservations up front.

Open Individual and Joint Bank Accounts

Among couples who experience financial conflicts, it is often because they have just one bank account. The first thing to do is to set up three bank accounts: hers, his, and ours. The one for “hers” is the money a wife sets aside for herself. The one for “his” is solely for the husband’s use. The one designated as “ours” can be used to pay joint expenses.

Share Responsibility Within the Home

A balanced relationship requires both partners to share in the daily household chores and child-rearing responsibilities especially if both partners are spending equal time outside of the home at work.

Be Flexible in Social Roles

Redefining roles requires more realistic expectations by both parties about how the relationship dynamics will be. Be flexible with your relationship roles.


If you have any family law questions, do not hesitate to contact an experienced Wheaton family law attorney at Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C.