Why I want to make enough money to support myself (and my family) even though I’m a woman with a high earning husband

I mean, besides that I like having lots of money and enjoy my career.  Which I do.  I love having 2x DH’s salary instead of 1x.  But we could totally live on 1x.  I just don’t want to.  And I’m sure after a while I would start writing novels or taking over local non-profits or something.

There’s been a couple of recent articles going around about women making sure they only pick high earning potential husbands.  (“It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man…” to quote Marilyn Monroe’s character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)  Money matters because you’ll want to stay home with your kids, they say.  Or you’ll want to live a better life than you can on your income alone.  So don’t pick the 40K/year guy, pick the 100K/year guy with upward mobility potential.

Part of it is that I do not ever want to be in a situation in which I have to scramble.  I don’t want to be a 50 year old widow (or divorcee) having to go back into the labor market after an extended absence.  We have life insurance, but getting life insurance that would provide me with true security in a situation in which I could not find a fantastic job after DH’s demise forced me to work again would be a huge drain on just DH’s salary.  And I have complete trust in DH, but if I were married to any other person, that looming potential of being divorced or trapped in a horrible marriage because I needed the money would just be awful.  I never want to be helpless or trapped, especially with children depending on me.

The second reason is not about me.  My BIL is trapped in his current job and his current career trajectory because he has a SAHM wife and two kids.  He has to always make the safe choice.  The one that keeps him employed.  He needs to stay with his company because it’s union and he’s no longer last in/first out.  Contrast that with DH.  When he didn’t like his job he was able to take unpaid leave at first and to just quit without another one lined up later.  He was able to explore working at a start-up and then on his own company and then compare competing job offers that paid 2x as his “safe” job.  Eventually we might have needed him to bring in his own money so as to keep the stress off me (for example, me being on half pay this year in an expensive city would have been a lot more difficult to pull off!), but he had plenty of time to explore different options and was able to wait for one that made him really happy.  If/when this job evaporates, he will be able to go through the process of finding a job he likes again.

A third reason that doesn’t apply to me (but might if I had a husband who felt money more) is that for most people, money is power.  And that means that the person who brings in the money is the one who gets more say in how things turn out in the household.  He (and it’s usually he) gets to say what luxuries get bought, what the household allowance is, and so on.  And for the few months when I was the sole breadwinner, DH did take on more of the household responsibilities (which was nice for me!).  Being married to someone who greatly out-earns you can mean golden handcuffs.  I am much happier having an equal marriage.  And I might be willing to exchange money for power if I had to, that is, me being the one making more and having more say, but not so much the other way around.  (I suspect though that this gets back to point one– I’d rather be unmarried than to be in a bad relationship, but for that, I still need to make my own money!)  (Note that since DH doesn’t really feel money, he could make many x as me and we would still have equal bargaining power, but that isn’t true for every one.)

That’s not to say I want to be married to someone who lies around the house and plays video games all day.  But because I make money, I can value productivity more in a partner than the actual cash he is bringing in.  I would rather have DH produce value than be a hedge fund manager making 5x what he’s making right now (though I suppose if that were the case we could be more active with charity!)  And I’d rather be alone than married to someone who wasn’t making the world a better place.

If I made less money, we’d need to be more frugal, but part of why I chose the profession I chose was because of its potential for income and financial security.  And we’ve saved a lot as a couple to allow ourselves more freedom in the future.  Perhaps if I was less skilled and/or scared of math I might not have the luxury of looking for a productive husband (or having no husband at all!) rather than a high income one.  Caring only about love is a luxury that having enough money makes possible.  Still, I don’t think that finding a prince to rescue me would be the direction my thoughts would go.  I know how to be frugal (partly because great swaths of my childhood had my mom supporting the four of us on less than what a high school teacher makes) and I have ambition.

Of course, I married a guy who had virtually no income in the years we were dating before marriage because we were still in high school and college.  (And who had very little income during the first years of our marriage because we were in graduate school.)  I have no idea what I would be looking for if I, heaven forbid, had to go on the dating market as an actual adult.  But I would still want to keep my career and my income, not just because I love it or just for the money, but because I don’t want to give up that freedom and power.

So how about you?  How do you balance the importance of your salary with the importance of your partner’s?

81 Responses to “Why I want to make enough money to support myself (and my family) even though I’m a woman with a high earning husband”

  1. Foscavista Says:

    I apologize, for this is off topic, but I had to share with someone – we paid off our mortgage (early) today! This blog partially inspired me to do so, so I wanted to thank either #1 or #2.

  2. hollyatclubthrifty Says:

    I like earning my own money for the same reasons you’ve mentioned – I like feeling like we are in an equal partnership and I like living well below our means. Having two incomes instead of one gives us more options in life, like when my husband was able to quit his job last year to pursue his online endeavors. He wouldn’t have had that option if I wasn’t earning a solid income we could rely on.

    This probably sounds shitty, but I don’t mean it to be. I could never be a SAHM while my husband worked all day. I can’t imagine relying on someone else financially for food, shelter, and everything else. Not only would I not want my spouse having that power over me, but I don’t think I would be very happy. If I were a SAHM, I would have to have some kind of side hustle that gave me some control over our earnings.

    • hollyatclubthrifty Says:

      To add to that, I totally understand why so many women choose to stay home. Some want to for their own reasons, and others would be forced to pay so much for daycare that it wouldn’t be worth it.

  3. Flavia Says:

    A-f*cking-men!

    I try really, really hard not to judge SAHMs (there are a surprising number among my friends–women who had powerful jobs until age 38 or whatever late date they had kids), but because I share your values and fears–I know a few people my own age who died unexpectedly–I don’t think I could do it myself.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, maybe they’re all independently wealthy from their powerful jobs and have just early retired?

      • Flavia Says:

        Nope! Some worked hard to pay off significant (educational) debt, and at least one also banked some low six-figure amount that helped build the couple’s savings, but none were close to retiring early.

  4. Leah Says:

    My most important part is being able to support myself. I make just a little less than my husband, but I’m not too concerned about the balance per se — at various times, I’ve made more and he’s made more. What I am concerned about is that each of us make enough money to support ourselves.

    Pre-kids, we didn’t carry life insurance, and someone asked us “what would you do if the other died?” Um, I’d be sad. Really sad. And then I’d keep on supporting myself like I did before we got married. Perhaps this is a function of getting married “later” (tail end of our 20s) and having managed our own money. I agree with you that I would not want to be in a spot where I could not afford to live without his income. That’s my main hesitation in buying a house right now; it would be really, really tight to live on just one income for us even though we could definitely buy a house with both incomes.

    • chacha1 Says:

      We have ‘starting over’ amounts of term life insurance – $100K each. It’s basically so that the survivor wouldn’t need to worry about living expenses for at least a year, and still have money to move, while we’re here in L.A.; or could afford to move (if so desired) closer to friends/family after that.

      We are not quite at a point where either of us could afford all of the operational expenses alone. And they keep going up. :-(

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We didn’t need life insurance before kids either. And we bought a house based on one income!

      • Leah Says:

        Your incomes are each much better than ours! I suspect your individual income is better than our combined income. Good thing we enjoy our jobs and are pretty darn frugal.

        I’m a bit embarrassed to say (related to downthread) that I left grad school and took a pay cut. I now make more than I did in grad school, but it took about 4 years to get back to that point. But, again, I left to do something personally fulfilling. My good money management and lack of debt really helped me make it work. But $13k a year was a bit rough at times, even with included housing.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Before kids our incomes were lower (I had DC1 my first year in TT).

        13K/year is poverty-wage. (Though our housing in grad school was ~20K/year, and our grad stipends were <20K/year each the entire time, still…)

        We did buy an *extremely* fancy house on my one first-year professor income because we live in a town with low housing costs.

        Yay money management and lack of debt!

  5. SP Says:

    For some people, the team might be stronger when the 2 people specialize, but I think in most relationships, the team is stronger over the long run when both people are able to contribute in the finances and the childcare. It is just less risky that way for all of the reasons you mentioned.

    Whose salary is more important? Well, we need at least one, and I guess if we HAD to chose, it would be his since we made a lot of choices to make sure his career path went as planned, his is more secure than mine (although pre-tenure, so… still not secure, mine is even less so). But we don’t have to chose and mine is important too.

    We also met before money was really on the radar, and honestly don’t think I had much sense to take it into account when I was that young. But I always liked smart & ambitious guys.

  6. Anu Says:

    Add me to the club of women who can’t imagine being a SAHM and who genuinely wants to continue to work no matter the ups or downs of my husband’s career. It’s not even really about the financial stuff for me – yes, it’s good to know that I could support myself no matter what, but I’m also not quite as drawn to the concept of financial independence within families as American women (or Americans in general) tend to be. I know I have inheritances from my birth family to fall back on, and they wouldn’t even blink if I wanted to live with them for a while (cultural differences again). Plus I can’t quite imagine how our marriage could be stronger and in the event of an (extremely unlikely) divorce, I think we would manage to be decent people to each other.

    I just think my career is worth nurturing for its own sake. My mother was in high-power positions throughout my childhood and I could see the difference in the way the world treated her vs. her sister, for example, who gave up her career once my uncle’s started to take off (due to a lot of pressure from him as well). My uncle too seems to treat my mother’s opinions with more respect than my aunt’s, which has got to grate.

    Your second reason up there is also very important to me. My husband sometimes talks about wanting to get out of industry and go into something less remunerative, like public policy. I’m glad I can say, sure love, it’ll require some belt-tightening, but we can make it work if that’s what you want.

    Finally, as the child of two parents who worked outside the home throughout her childhood, I just don’t buy the notion that it’s better for the child for the mother to stay-at-home (or for one parent to stay-at-home). This is something that seems to be accepted as a given in many of these conversations, but the few studies on this topic seem to show the opposite – that it seems to benefit children, particularly girls, to have mothers who work outside the home. I definitely feel that my mother helped me to see more possibilities for my life and career just by existing.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Granted, in all the studies on the topic, it matters what the Y variable is (sharing parents’ beliefs vs. daughter’s future income etc.) and what is being controlled for (ex. income, mother’s education, etc.). For most people, it probably doesn’t matter in the long run. (Though for low income kids with low education parents, preschool makes a huge positive difference, and a college educated SAHM is better than poor quality daycare. Everything else, it probably doesn’t matter.) But I definitely agree there’s a lot to be said in terms of intangible positives from coming from a long line of working women!

  7. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    “What I am concerned about is that each of us make enough money to support ourselves.”

    This. I make noticeably less than my husband, but I could live on my salary if I needed to (the current house would have to go). That matters to me. It matters a whole lot. Growing up, I saw a lot of my friends’ mothers dumped for younger women. None of them had significant jobs, though some did things like give piano lessons in their homes. It was very, very hard for them to make ends meet after their husbands left, and I wanted to be sure that wouldn’t happen to me. (It probably would have been better not to have got a PhD in the humanities, given that need, but at the time it wasn’t quite such a bad choice as it would be now. And I was fighting against my own family’s assumption that I didn’t need to have a career because I would get married!) I still feel semi-dependent, which I don’t like, but it’s way better than being my first best friend’s mother, or a good friend who is married to a super-earner and gave up working after a move coincided with severe health problems. I think she enjoys her life and is reconciled to it, but she has told me that she admires my ability to contribute to our household income, even though it’s not an equal share. My husband has a sort of “from each according to his/her abilities” attitude that means he thinks I contribute equally though that’s not true in absolute terms.

    I think even if I were in my friend’s position, with a high-earning husband but physically unable to work (or if work came at the cost of everything else I value in life), I’d want to make a little money that was truly my own, even if it just paid for a few lunches and coffees a week. It would be a sort of symbolic independence, some pittance that wasn’t given me by someone else. I just can’t see my husband’s money as “ours,” and I would be resentful and miserable if I had an “allowance.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I feel like there should be a quote about having an income of one’s own (not just a room).

    • Rosa Says:

      I couldn’t live on my current salary. I could live just fine on my last full-time salary…but I couldn’t support my kid well.

      We were equal earners when we started out, and for years afterward. Then I had a terrible pregnancy and a preemie child, and had to quit my job – I ran out of family leave when he was 2 weeks past his due date, before he could be in child care safely. My industry was tanking at the same time – my old company laid off 90% of its workforce the year I was forced to quit, anyway.

      I took 18 months off and then started over with a new company. But I was partly mommy-tracked – partner worked 60-80 hour weeks, we just couldn’t make it work at 100+ hours together. Plus my job was just a job and he loves his. So i cut back to part time. And our incomes just got more and more unequal…

      I do have my own money, and part of our deal is funding my Roth fully every year and putting some stuff in my name only (“wages for housework”) but once things get unequal, if there are family pulls, if the kid has special needs, if if if – it always makes sense to deprioritize the less earning career, right? And so things just get worse and worse. It took years of fighting for him to realize that, if he works 60 hours a week, I’m picking up some of his slack – if I disappeared from the family for 60 hours a week too, unilaterally, things would fall apart. And if I walked out, he wouldn’t be able to work that much anyway. So he’s cut back a lot. But the years of getting to that just entrenched the inequality.

      I do worry about the toll inequality takes on my relationship. Even though my partner isn’t a power tripper and even though i do have the means to leave if I wanted. I stay one-foot-in the workforce because I don’t want to be dependent. But the inequality isn’t going to go away – he’s in a higher earning industry anyway, and he’s had an uninterrupted career. I’ve always been pink-collar and then I mommy-tracked. So it is what it is.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It kind of “always makes sense to deprioritize the less earning career” but in a het relationship, that’s disproportionately likely to be the woman’s rather than the man’s career. :-(
        I’m sorry you had to go through that. Good job on the Roth!

      • Rosa Says:

        Yeah, the overall dynamic is super gendered. Even just what kind of jobs “pay well” in the first place. It’s less visible in our daily life, because our friend group is kind of odd – lots of same sex couples and lots of het couples that include male artists, musicians, and other lower-earning freelancers who ended up being primary parents. But people don’t really talk much about money anyway so it can be really hard to tell what’s going on in other people’s marriages. I’ve been surprised several times to find the partner with the odd or part-time hours is making quite a bit of money and the partner with the more traditional job took lower salary for stability and benefits, to compensate.

  8. oldmdgirl Says:

    Amen, sister. I feel fortunate to legitimately love what I’m doing, but even if I didn’t I think I would continue working for all the reasons you cite. Also, it’s not spousal death that worries me so much as disability. Many MANY people don’t die, they just become too disabled to work. IMO in many ways that is worse because you now have to care for them as well as pay your own bills.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That is definitely true! And everyone should have disability insurance if their employer provides it, but it doesn’t pay out anywhere close to 100%.

    • Ana Says:

      YUP. disability way way worse, financially at least (and also, depending on the nature of it, in other ways). I would never feel comfortable relying 100% on someone else to support myself & my children, if I was in any position to work, I would want to be able to support myself. Even if I didn’t have a career I loved, I would want to work or at the very least actively nurture the skills & contacts I would need to jump back into the workforce. Imagine if the sole breadwinner became disabled and the spouse had to wait tables to make ends meet because she had no skills. ugh.

  9. crazy grad mama Says:

    I’ve had to come to terms with making a lot less than my husband in the short term (because of our age difference, the fact that I’m in grad school, and his recent switch from academia to industry). I manage our joint budget and am the main financial decision-maker of the house, so the power issue isn’t there. The flexibility issue, however, is a big deal for us. When my husband was first starting to think about leaving academia, it was really important that we knew we could get by for several months (on my salary and savings) if he needed time to search for jobs.

    Mostly, I work because I can’t imagine not working. I’m not cut out to be a full-time SAHM.

  10. Cloud Says:

    I work because I have an emotional need to have my own projects. But if that were the only consideration, I could definitely see filling my days with interesting projects that don’t pay much. Like you, I also want to always be able to support myself and my kids, no matter what happens in my marriage. I don’t expect anything terrible to happen, but you never expect that, do you? Of course, realistically, I can’t guarantee that “always”- there are things that could happen that would overwhelm my savings and insurance, while at the same time leaving me with a reduced capacity for work. But ignoring that sort of catastrophe, I aim to be able to be self-supporting.

    Your point about money equaling power is a good one. For most of our time together, I made more than my husband, sometimes by a significant amount (like $30k or so). Now that I’m starting my business, my income is down. So far, it isn’t down enough to require us to change how we live, but it is down enough that my husband now out earns me by about $30k or so. I have been surprised by how that changed how *I* viewed our money. I need to work on that! My husband has changed his views, too, but I think he’s mostly reacting to the decrease in overall income, not the change in our relative salaries.

    I’m also working really hard to bring my income back up. I like money. I won’t work myself sick to get it, and I still put boundaries on how much work can consume my life. But I find I’ll work really hard to keep living how we live, even though I know (because I’ve done it in the past) that I could live on a lot less.

    • Cloud Says:

      I want to add: I view the work stay at home moms do as real work (I think most people commenting here do, too). Caring for children is hard work! Different people enjoy different types of work more than others, and get meaning from doing different types of work. I completely understand why some people choose to stay home and do the child care work themselves. It was not a good fit for me, but it might have been a good fit for my husband- but he didn’t want to do that, so he didn’t.

      My mother stayed home with us until we started school. Some of this was because doing otherwise was much harder in her time, particularly in her career. She was essentially fired for being pregnant. and hid her first pregnancy for as long as she could so that she could keep working. This was standard policy, not anything unusual. But I also think some of this was just because she really, really enjoys working with small children. That is actually what she did for a career, too (she was an elementary school teacher). She has said that in a different world, she might have studied early childhood development, and she would have been great at it, because she just “gets” babies and kids. It is amazing.

      I’ve never talked to my parents about how the money/power balance changed. We were on food stamps for awhile when I was a small child, although my dad was working full time. My mom’s “domestic skills” certainly allowed her to stretch the money farther. I think that sort of thing could factor into how money was viewed in the household, but I have no idea if it did in their case.

      Also, because of her specific career, it wasn’t too hard for her to get back into the workforce once we were in elementary school. She did, and our money situation was much improved by that. I think that if I had wanted to stay home with my kids when they were pre-school age, I would have wanted to do something to keep my skills current, to make re-entry easier. I could have done that on the tech side without too much difficulty. It is harder to see how to do that in some career paths, though, and I think that does sometimes “trap” women out of the workforce.

      I guess all that is just to say that I think there are multiple ways to accomplish the goal of feeling like you could support yourself. In some ways, my method of working in a high paying career is the easiest one- but it is not the only one.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Luckily for me, I’m just as lazy making half my salary as I was making my full salary (though less lazy than when I was truly the primary breadwinner). I think it’s because this is a temporary one year thing. If it were more permanent I might start doing more around the house to support DH. Or maybe that would only happen if I didn’t have a regular job at all. I mean, I’m still working full-time even if I’m only getting paid for half. And when DH has taken on more household responsibilities, his drop in work time corresponded to the drop in income.

  11. chacha1 Says:

    I never wanted kids so SAHM wasn’t on my radar as an option. And being a SAHW, in the absence of kids, is attractive only in the scenario where we have so much more money than we could ever need that I could spend my days flinging it around to local educational, arts, and environmental projects.

    I have made more money than my husband, or an equal amount, for most of the years of our relationship. It definitely affects the power dynamic, and not just in the house. Being a high-earning woman garners a level of respect from everyone, perhaps not as much as being a high-earning man in our still-patriarchal society. But choice of workplace matters too. I guarantee you that if I said I worked as a high-school teacher, I would not be perceived as a professional the way I am when I say I work as a paralegal. And that’s even though in the LAUSD, with my background, I could earn roughly the same as a teacher. (The working conditions would suuuuuuuuck, though.)

    Working is just what people do, according to my upbringing. I don’t think it ever really occurred to me that not working was a desirable thing, and the risks associated with being someone’s dependent just horrify me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a really good point about work conferring status outside of the marriage as well.

      Working is just what people do is true in my family and DH’s as well, though my father is a big proponent of financial independence. My mom thinks that people have a duty to use their talents to make the world a better place by providing value.

  12. First Gen American Says:

    My mom was the primary breadwinner. I can’t imagine being in a position where I couldn’t support myself if needed. Although there are times I’d love to exit the workforce for a while, I don’t think I’d do it willingly. Its not very easy to take a break from tech jobs and easily reenter the workforce, plus there are gender biases that come into play. Taking time off to be with family can = someone who’s not interested in a “real career”.

    My compromise was taking a home based sales job with a lot of flexibility. It doesn’t always push my limits in terms of my intellectual capacity but it has the best balance in terms of home vs work time. No more 90 hour weeks and crazy travel.

  13. becca Says:

    We’ve had him stay home, me stay home, neither of us stay home and both of us stay home. They all work, but us both working is probably best… either that, or we’ve gotten better at working on the issues that inevitably come up over time.

    Neither of us values stay-at-home work quite as much as we both know we *should*. I had a SAHD and he had a SAHM, so on a gut emotional level we both have biases toward comfort at opposite times.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It is awfully nice having two incomes coming in.

      • jjiraffe Says:

        It really is.

      • becca Says:

        Exactly. It’s not just the power dynamics within the relationship, it’s the diversification in income stream and resulting power dynamics at work (I would be *freaking out* about my job situation if Carebear didn’t have a job right now). I’d be happier with 6 income streams instead of 2, but polyamory is emotionally a whole other game, and real estate and side gigs all have their pros/cons as well. Dividend stocks seem a perfectly lovely option, but to have enough money such that is an appreciable component is only within my wildest imagination.
        Having two technically family-sustaining income streams coming in is a-maz-ing. I can only imagine how much better it would be if we could do it under one roof instead of in different states :-/

  14. Coach Emily the Triumphant Says:

    My parents both have careers. I have always enjoyed hearing about both parents’ workdays. My mother is in real estate, so it is fun to hear about the kinds of people she meets and the next hottest listing in our area. My dad is a doctor and it was very rewarding (and slightly stomach turning) to go with him to his lab when he was called in.

    However, at 22, I walked into a religious setting where stay at home mothers (sahm’s) were the ideal. I started to envy my married peers who were able to leave their unfulfilling jobs after they got married or pregnant. I thought that perhaps, women were not meant to handle the stresses and strains of being in the workforce unless if they HAD to earn money.
    I resented being single for a long time, even well after leaving that particular place of worship. I was convinced that since everybody else around me hated their jobs, it was just part of life. As long as I was single, I was shackled to my dysfunctional place of employment until I could one day get into a healthy working environment.

    But, the help of my wonderful therapist and supportive friends slowly shifted my thinking. It took a lot of unlearning, therapy and healthy secular resources to make me realize that I was in a position to make a choice about where my life was going. And that included my career. Through some brief, yet rewarding work experiences, I learned that I could make my life’s work and source of income rewarding.

    So now I am happily UNmarried with my partner who uses his enthusiasm for people in the retail industry. We share a lot of what we have and have learned how to carry each other during tough times. I strive to become a provider for my family because it will bring us more options and provide the financial stability we long for. I am in the foundational stages of building my life coaching practice, working at a gym part time and looking for a part time job in order to have a steady income stream. For me, it is best for my business to continue working for others part time because the kind of clients I will be serving are people who work with the public for a living.

    Now the idea of working to bring in income empowers me. Thank you for your post!

    • Rosa Says:

      I’ve had a lot of jobs, and I’ve been a SAHM, and I can’t imagine a job that comes with fewer perks and less appreciation. Your kids really shouldn’t (and may not be able to) appreciate you the way coworkers do – if you’re doing it right, your kids won’t ever experience parenting bad enough to have the kind of low bar for competence and caring that everyone has had from a coworker at some point in their careers.

      But. Some kids need a lot more parenting than others, and unlike a job, parents aren’t very replaceable, and kids aren’t going to still be out there when you’ve got less going on in other parts of your life.

      The only women who’ve ever seemed sincere when they say to me “Oh i wish I could stay home with my kids” are the ones who never have. Sometimes I think if we had long maternity leaves (a year, like in the UK, or 16 months like in Sweden) one of the main benefits would be that people would get to leave toddlers instead of newborns when they went back to work, and would be much more grateful to be back.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        This is probably cross-posting, but I’m Scalzing here– let’s wrap up the “SAHP is the hardest job in the world” conversation. Not because it is or isn’t true, but because I’ve seen most of our usual commenters have this discussion all over the internet and I no longer find it interesting. Let’s stick more to how similarities/differences in couple’s working/income affects stuff and whether or not a person should seek a high earning spouse.

      • xykademiqz Says:

        one of the main benefits would be that people would get to leave toddlers instead of newborns when they went back to work, and would be much more grateful to be back

        LOL! So true.

      • Rosa Says:

        I wasn’t saying hardest – I was saying least rewarding in the day to day. Most jobs have a lot of not-really-work-related perks – good coworkers, surroundings someone else cleans, having to dress nicely, mentors, learning new things and being praised/rewarded for it, having at least some tasks/problems that are actually finished when you do them.

        We talk a lot about the money disparities/patterns, but I think part of the power imbalance that gets attributed to money is that it’s hard to get some of the noncash benefits of a job other places, so the SAH partner ends up leaning on their partner for those things, too.

        I work a lot with volunteers (and right now, as a volunteer too). I can really see that for a lot of folks who are retired, or unemployed, or stuck in jobs where they feel unappreciated, that they turn to the structure and emotional rewards of unpaid work.

      • Coach Emily the Triumphant Says:

        Thank you for sharing, Rosa.

  15. Coach Emily the Triumphant Says:

    Reblogged this on Triumphing Over A State of Toil (T.O.A.S.T) and commented:
    I recommend that you read this wonderful piece and that you think about your “why” behind your work. What else, besides, work, is your work feeding into? One example could be providing security for your family. Another one could be to give yourself financial freedom to travel. Here are my reflections as a response to this post :

    {Begin comment}
    My parents both have careers. I have always enjoyed hearing about both parents’ workdays. My mother is in real estate, so it is fun to hear about the kinds of people she meets and the next hottest listing in our area. My dad is a doctor and it was very rewarding (and slightly stomach turning) to go with him to his lab when he was called in.

    However, at 22, I walked into a religious setting where stay at home mothers (sahm’s) were the ideal. I started to envy my married peers who were able to leave their unfulfilling jobs after they got married or pregnant. I thought that perhaps, women were not meant to handle the stresses and strains of being in the workforce unless if they HAD to earn money.
    I resented being single for a long time, even well after leaving that particular place of worship. I was convinced that since everybody else around me hated their jobs, it was just part of life. As long as I was single, I was shackled to my dysfunctional place of employment until I could one day get into a healthy working environment.

    But, the help of my wonderful therapist and supportive friends slowly shifted my thinking. It took a lot of unlearning, therapy and healthy secular resources to make me realize that I was in a position to make a choice about where my life was going. And that included my career. Through some brief, yet rewarding work experiences, I learned that I could make my life’s work and source of income rewarding.

    So now I am happily UNmarried with my partner who uses his enthusiasm for people in the retail industry. We share a lot of what we have and have learned how to carry each other during tough times. I strive to become a provider for my family because it will bring us more options and provide the financial stability we long for. I am in the foundational stages of building my life coaching practice, working at a gym part time and looking for a part time job in order to have a steady income stream. For me, it is best for my business to continue working for others part time because the kind of clients I will be serving are people who work with the public for a living.

    Now the idea of working to bring in income empowers me. Thank you for your post! {end of comment}

  16. Read this post I reblogged! Here is my response! | Triumphing Over A State of Toil (T.O.A.S.T) Says:

    […] recommend that you read this wonderful piece and that you think about your “why” behind your work. What else, besides, work, is your […]

  17. Miser Mom Says:

    Hah! By now I’m on the “Why I want to make enough money to support myself (and my family) even though I’m a woman with a *retired* husband”. The answer basically is: I love my job; he didn’t much like his; my job is enough for us to live on until I decide to retire, too. It’s a sweet place to be

    On the other side, one of my daughters is in the opposite situation, it’s not pretty. Her husband has the job and she’s a SAHM. It’s not just the economic part that’s hard — he drinks a lot (like, saying “it was only six beers tonight”, as though that’s an “only”, and actually it was much more), doesn’t let her know how much money they actually have (his checking account is in his name only), they have student loan debts and haven’t started saving for retirement, she drives him everywhere because he can’t drive because of his DUI . . . she’s alternated between talking about going back to school (she has an associate’s degree but not her bachelor’s yet) and getting a job so she can have money of her own, but she can’t figure out how to do that with a kid in tow. Gaaah. But I know that I can’t push her to GETT OUTTT OF THERRRRE! So I keep calmly reminding her that I’ll support whatever decision she makes, but I have a bedroom she can move back into and I can help take care of the baby. Sigh.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Poor daughter. :( I hope she figures things out sooner rather than later.

    • bogart Says:

      Urk! I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t know if she’d find it helpful or not, nor whether it’s accessible to her (kid in tow, etc.), but she might find al-anon helpful (it’s the organization similar to Alcoholics Anonymous but focused on family members of alcoholics rather than those doing the drinking).

      Whatever it is she needs to find her way to a better place, I hope she finds it.

    • Leah Says:

      Oh, so sorry to hear this :-( I wish her the best. What a rough situation.

  18. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I totally value my work as a housewife and think it’s best for the children. I can’t imagine how anyone could leave their sweet babies all day to go be argued at by white men.

    …ha ha. I hate it and I’m bored out of my mind at this point and I would love to ship them all off to daycare. (And thank you, Cloud, for your thoughtful comment. It has not really been the best fit for me either; I am working on it.) For anyone who ‘can’t imagine’ it: even for a well paid and well educated woman, sometimes it is the least bad choice available and, like many housewives, I don’t intend to do it forever. (I work part time right now.)

    The spouse and I discuss all large purchases like whole-house AC but I make almost all financial decisions despite earning about 3% of our total income. It doesn’t bother either of us who earns what and we’re pretty congruous on our financial priorities. Having the *skills* to support myself has always been important. Us both being able to work towards our goals is important. Whose name was on the deposit into joint checking isn’t important (to either of us).

  19. Katherine Says:

    I make significantly more money than my husband right now, and I expect that the imbalance will increase dramatically this year and then stay pretty steady for the foreseeable future. I feel a bit ambivalent about it, because having the main breadwinner responsibility squarely on my shoulders makes me a bit anxious, but mostly because if we were both earning real-person salaries we could save SO MUCH MONEY!

    I think this is the right thing for us right now, though – partly because (related to what you mentioned in the post) it allows him to do part-time low-paying work that he enjoys and really believes in (which hoe hopes will turn into a full-time career, which would be awesome) and also spend a lot of time on home-improvement type projects.

    I am definitely the more driven, Type A personality in the relationship, and I lead most of the money decisions. That was true back when we were earning equal amounts of money, and it will probably continue to be true no matter what happens to our earnings distribution in the future.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I definitely prefer DH being the one spending time on home-improvement type projects. Though next time he’s underemployed we are keeping the lawn company because DH spent way too much time on yard work. Yard work never ends.

      • Katherine Says:

        Yes, I much prefer my husband be the one doing home improvement – he’s better at it and more interested in it than I am. I’m not sure how I feel about him doing more of the routine housework (which is what we do now). My standards of neatness/cleanliness are higher than his, and also I feel bad about being so lazy. Which probably has something to do with the patriarchy.

  20. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    My sister was raised solely to be a “wife”, and now she is f*cked and dependent on the kindness of her ex-husband to even survive.

  21. J Liedl Says:

    I am the primary breadwinner and have been for more than twenty years. Relocating for my job was a blow to my partner’s own career prospects and while he’s been employed throughout the time, it’s rarely been to his full potential. That said, we’ve always agreed that we’re in this together – I may bring in more cash but we’re a team so it’s not just my earnings – it’s our money.

    Yes, this ties me to my job in a lot of ways. There’s pretty much no place else out there that would pay me as well for what I do. But I also am happy to really enjoy my job in pretty much every way. The only thing about it that I don’t like is the weather (more snow incoming this week, ugh).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The dual body problem is hard. In many ways my job has been the primary job during our marriage for the same reason yours has been. If I weren’t in academia we’d probably own a house in Paradise.

      • Rosa Says:

        So the ideal spouse is high earning but flexible/willing to follow, for some people. Computer programmer, accountant…what other professions would come under that? Plumbers, consultants, some kinds of sales jobs.

        Definitely not field researchers or zookeepers or journalists. Journalist and school teacher might be the worst combination of narrow geographical choices and low pay.

  22. jjiraffe Says:

    Being a SAHM is probably the toughest work I’ve ever done – and I have a very demanding career now! I respect those who do it. I was not well suited for it.

    I do like working full time and I generally love what I do. I’m not the main breadwinner but the money I bring is appreciated, and the 401k, the benefits and other rewards build financial security. Which is invaluable in its own way.

  23. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Not to be all Scalzi here (since usually we’re happy to have conversational diversions), but let’s try not to get into the usual “WOHM talking about how awesome SAHM are” conversation.

    I think we can take all of the above such comments as the usual disclaimer and move on. (Also no need for the opposing viewpoint– this is not that thread.)

    • Ana Says:

      THANK YOU for this. Also, I don’t want to start anything, really, but there ARE harder jobs. Most of us are lucky enough to not have to do them.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ok, let’s let this bit of truth about harder jobs existing be the end of the other side of the SAHM “debate”. And let’s make sure to get out and vote at every election for democrats so that we can stem the rising tide of income inequality.

  24. xykademiqz Says:

    Traveled all day, missed this awesome thread! All of this, yes. There is no equality without economic equality, so egalitarian marriage = both partners work. The way I grew up, mom worked and still had to hide stuff she bought for herself from my dad because he wouldn’t approve of her spending anything on herself. I outearn my DH by a factor of 2 but I would never push him to stop working. I think it’s best for me not to discuss SAHMs because I will never understand being comfortable to be financially dependent on someone if you are an able-bodied adult. And the it’s best for the kids/baby farm idiocy gets me in trouble online all the time — there are whole countries where women participation in the workforce is much greater than the US and they still manage to raise smart and healthy kids. So no, it’s not in fact necessary for the kids’ benefit for one person to not work at all; if people have other reasons to not want to work, so be it, but working moms damaging their kids is not an actual real reason. Maybe I should shut up now.
    Great post, N&M! I hear you on all accounts. And, as usual, great comments.

  25. Revanche (@RevAGSL) Says:

    I wrote a really long post and it was rejected, and then deleted, so I will have to come up with it again later. In short: I disproportionately valued money as a valuation of myself but PiC has a much healthier separation of earned salary to value as a person.

  26. Cardinal Says:

    Like nearly everyone above, it would weigh very heavily on my conscience to be capable of earning money but financially dependent on someone else. And like many above, I have occasionally felt the burden of being the primary earner (my salary is about double my husband’s). A few years ago when I was badly unhappy at work I felt quite trapped, but then everything at work changed and it turned out ok.

    But the other piece of the picture for me is that I have a really strong desire for the work I do to make some kind of contribution to the world. And I just can’t see that keeping my own house and feeding/clothing/raising my own children is enough of a contribution. In my private, uncharitable moments I do feel judgment towards people who are highly skilled who devote all their skills and energy to their own already-privileged spouse and children, when they could be putting some of that energy into the wider world where the needs are so great. It really does seem selfish to me. (insert caveats about how we can’t know how much those families give to charity, every family makes its own best decisions, blah blah blah…)

    • Ana Says:

      YES, you articulated what I couldn’t in terms of contribution to the world and whether focusing all your time/energy/talent on your insular family is the best use of it. Also, to some extent, how your kids turn out is not really up to you so you could spend your entire life doing absolutely everything you thought was “right” and “best” and at the end…well, you know.

  27. chacha1 Says:

    Going back to the desirability of a high-earning spouse: I don’t think I ever required someone to be “high earning” but I was always pretty adamant about them being able to cover their own expenses. That is why I was willing to completely torpedo my own financial health in order to get rid of the bloodsucking leech I brought to California with me, after three years of him not doing a goddamned thing to earn money.

    Having a spouse who “adds value to the world” is lovely, but they had also better add value to the household. You really can’t have a relationship of equals if one person is not contributing on a scale that the *other person* genuinely finds equitable. Spouse 1 may think s/he is contributing the same, but if Spouse 2 disagrees, it’s not likely to promote peace. It can’t be “we agreed to this to stop the fighting but we both secretly resent it” and still be a healthy relationship.

    When I took my huge pay cut, we shifted a lot of the fixed expenses to my husband. As my income went back up, I brought more of those back to my side of the balance sheet. We now contribute – financially – almost exactly the same amount to our current living expenses. But I contribute 100% of retirement savings and do 100% of the other retirement planning, including paying for the lot we are buying upstate.

    This is what gives me the power to say “no, we will not be building a garage. Cars are built to survive weather.”

  28. eemusings Says:

    I earn about twice as much as he does and I would certainly prefer if he earned more. More money is better! But for now as long as he is pulling his weight I’m okay with that.

  29. Rosa Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, the “high earning spouse” question separate from making your own money, and I realized it’s really hard for me to engage with because above a basic level income just isn’t that important to me. I know too many people who hooked up with high earners and then found out their high earner was a big spender with tons of debt. Sometimes secret debt! Or that the high earner was secretive and controlling about money – at least one of my friends found out about secret hidden bank accounts in the course of her divorce. Or that the high earner had really high risk tolerance and had seasons or years when their earnings were low or negative, and not enough savings to counterbalance it.

    And if we’re going to evaluate partners based on income, why not just choose someone who’s actually rich? Except that if the underlying value is just a “everyone works, it’s how we add value to the world” moral judgement, there can be a lot of conflict with a person who’s living off investments or a trust fund. Even when people are all working and both have similar incomes, if one has a lot of non-job resources to pull from that can be a big power imbalance. Especially when it comes to decisions about kids – grandparents really like to “help” with money toward kid decisions they approve of.

  30. Income as power and a more Zen perspective | A Gai Shan Life Says:

    […] wrote a response to Nicole and Maggie’s question: How do you balance the importance of your salary with the importance of your […]

  31. Debbie M Says:

    Very interesting question. And I have thought about it a lot. Although I love the idea of making enough money to support the family myself, I do not love the idea of getting the kind of job that pays that much. Instead, I have chosen to have a lowish-income job and to be quite frugal to make up for that. So my version of being able to support the family is to have a job where I could cover all my own expenses by myself with no roommate (though without being able to save much).

    But then I also generally have a roommate. Currently that roommate is my boyfriend. And I like to date programmers and engineers, so they are likely to have a much higher salary (except during layoffs).

    So we live in my low-cost house. If he wants to move somewhere pricier or expand our house into something pricier, I do not want to have to earn more money to cover my now-bigger half and he understands that. Yet, I would also benefit from such an expansion. So we would come up with some kind of compromise.

    Meanwhile, he has been unemployed or laughably underemployed for a couple of years now, during which I have been able to cover the household expenses plus one restaurant meal a week (he used to pay for several), but at the cost of not being able to save much. (Fortunately I had paid off my house and escaped the super-low-paying part-time job I had before I retired, so I’m back to being able to cover the household expenses myself.)

    Thank goodness I haven’t noticed that horrifying income/power correlation. I don’t think I could date anyone like that. It’s just too sickening. (Though I suppose it’s natural, so when it happens, you just deal with it.) I also have the advantage of not having or wanting children, so there’s no temptation to be a stay-at-home mom.

    My sister once had a husband in the military, so they moved a lot and it was difficult for her to find work and, unlike when my dad was in the military, they made plenty of money, so she was a stay-at-home spouse. In her place, I would do most of the housework to make up for that, plus her spouse had a horrible rotating schedule so he never had a good sleep schedule. I would be super flexible to be able to help him out maximally and also hang out with him when he was available, even if it was the middle of the night.

    And I once considered dating a guy who made over 100K/year and had savings of over $1 million and was frugal. If I had married him (in my community property state), I could see quitting my job and just having fun and doing extra of the housework that he didn’t like that much so long as he was working to make things more fair and fun for everyone.

    Unlike many of your other commenters, I have mostly not loved my work. But I have issues about independence. One of my weaknesses is that I have real trouble asking for help, so being financially independent is psychologically important for me. I also have a fear of other people (and pets) needing too much from me. So this leads me to seeking boyfriends (and other roommates) who are self-supporting. My ideal is that we are both *generally* self-supporting, but of course not perfect, so we also can help each other sometimes but not always.

    As for producing value, that was one of my job goals when I had a job. I wanted at least a living wage, ideally much more. I wanted a job that was at least not immoral, ideally actually helping the world. I wanted something at which I was at least competent, ideally fantastic. And I wanted something I could at least tolerate, but ideally would love. So I did actively stay away from one slightly immoral job (the graduate coordinator was often pressured to do things like forge the chair’s signature and fudge teaching load reports). But finding jobs is tough, and if a boyfriend could only get a job with a scummy company, I would understand.

    Now that I’m retired I feel like I should be helping others more because I am so privileged, but I’m giving myself a break (an extended break, it turns out!) to celebrate, recover, and get my things in order.

    PS A 40K/year guy sounds really great to me (if he’s frugal). (My highest income ever was 44K.)

  32. SP Says:

    Ours are equally important, meaning mine is less important than it was a few years ago when I out-earned him by a large fraction. It is nice that we both earn enough.

    We did put more “eggs” into his career basket, but that had less to do with salary and more to do with his career requiring it. I did struggle with it at the time, but I couldn’t love my job much more – even if it probably has a somewhat smaller potential salary growth and more instability than a path I might have otherwise chosen. I’m more likely than he is to reduce my hours if we had a family, because 1) I think my career could handle it more easily 2) I’m already the trailing souse 3) biology in the first year makes that more sensible.

    I do think it is important that I have the ability support myself financially, but other than that, we pool resources, and I’d theoretically be OK depending on my husband to be a primary breadwinner. Not sure how theory translates into reality though. My sister was a young SAHM and provided an example of this working well in a marriage. She is retraining for her career new right now – it seems like an exciting time, and they’ll have a lot more money with 2 earners.


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