I put off reading When She Makes More by Farnoosh Torabi until now, because of the criticism I’d heard about this book: patronising, sexist, heavy-handed on the stereotypes.
There’s some truth to those points, but you know what? I loved this book. LOVED it. I felt so much less alone reading When She Makes More and honestly, I wish I’d read it earlier when I was really in a bad place. I just devoured all of the stories of the couples she interviewed. It was incredibly validating, and that for me was the real value in When She Makes More – just knowing that others out there totally got it, went through similar experiences, and recognise that it IS hard.
While I didn’t come away with any groundbreaking insights or practical tips, I appreciated what I got out of When She Makes More. Based off the pages I nodded at/bookmarked the most, here are the key points that most resonated with me.
Who we are
Of course there are thriving couples out there with female breadwinners, and that’s not really who this book is for. It’s more likely for those of us who fall into the category defined by the divorce lawyer Torabi quotes in one of the chapters: the husband who sort of has a job but isn’t trying very hard to generate more income, or is self-employed but not really working.
Why it’s different for women
The stress we feel as primary income generators is just not the same.
We live longer. Any financial decisions need to factor this in – how might they affect the stability of your future if you outlive him?
It’d be remiss not to mention the gender pay gap in here, too. Our earnings underpin everything. Yet on average we tend to earn lower incomes than our male equivalents.
If you’re not planning on kids, this isn’t so applicable – but the question of starting a family is where it really starts to get complicated.
If the household is dependent on your income, then there isn’t even a hypothetical choice about whether to scale back or stop work. Plus, that’s assuming everything goes smoothly. What if you have health complications during pregnancy or after birth – or the baby does? And what if you want to take a longer maternity leave than normal? What if your mindset totally shifts after birth and you decide you want to be primary caregiver? There are so many unknowns.
Obviously, the ideal would be if both partners earned an income that was individually sufficient to support the household. If that’s not the case then there may need to be some serious conversations and forward planning – whether that means working toward a plan where he can bring in more income, or something else that works for the couple.
In many of the couples cited, the woman had a seriously high powered, high paying C-suite job, and presumably this was less of a concern than in couples where the woman earned more but not necessarily a huge salary. At a high enough income you’d at least be able to bank a lot to hedge against those hypotheticals.
Torabi writes that female breadwinners with a dependent family are living in a high stakes world – it’s vital to remain sought after in your work, to learn to navigate the biases and double standards at play, and build the reputation and professional capital that will serve you well later on.
Another point that probably belongs in here: the so-called second shift. Even when the woman makes more, even if the man doesn’t work, she almost always puts in a significant amount of housework/childcare. Even when the financial roles are reversed, the roles at home do not typically fully reverse.
The risks of being a female breadwinner
Resentment, resentment, resentment. Particularly when paired with the point above re: equality of housework. Resentment is the most dangerous feeling of all, particularly when it leads to wondering if you’re better off without him. (And maybe in some cases you are. It wasn’t until I actually left that he bucked up and started to get his act together.)
“The longer the woman has to support her lackadaisical husband, the quicker her feelings of frustration move into the bitter zone, after which the resentment takes over,” Torabi writes. It’s common for breadwinning mothers especially to feel at least some resentment, guilt and anger.
Female breadwinners are more likely to be unhappy, feel pressured to work less and even get divorced, she says. There’s the pressure to keep your job, the worry of having everything depend on you, and the desire to have an equal relationship with your partner.
Let’s face it, this permeates every facet of a relationship. When we talk about money, Torabi points out, we’re actually talking about our entire lives. Money affects how each of you feels about one another and about your relationship – and it also directly influences the frequency of and satisfaction with your sex life. (Can confirm. Broke sex is bad sex.)
If the guy has made financial mistakes in the past and is yet to prove he can be financially responsible, it can be difficult to trust him. Often it leads to mothering and controlling in an effort to remedy that, which sucks for both parties. I never liked being the mean/boring one saying no – we can’t afford that – or assuming responsibility for handling all the finances, or feeling unable to rely on anyone but myself. When a partnership turns more into something resembling parenting, it’s a bad sign.
Often couples that struggle the most are those whose incomes were fairly equal until he lost his job. But whatever the cause, what matters is how we cope in response. And figuring that out takes time. Financial and emotional equanimity are moving targets in any relationship, Torabi says, and this is so true in my experience. Ultimately, it’s a process.
One last point I liked in the book and would love to see play out: the suggestion for a shift in the campaign for paid parental leave that puts the focus on the benefits for families. How could anyone be against working families?
But ultimately, the biggest strength of When She Makes More is that it’s not too concerned with how things should be; it’s about how they are in reality, and how to cope with that. Yes, things should be perfectly equal at work and at home. It shouldn’t matter who makes more, practically or emotionally speaking. BUT. We live in an imperfect world and we as humans are flawed – we just have to work within these constraints the best we can.