After a spate of breakups, I don’t believe there are any couples left in my regular IRL circle with a clear female breadwinner. Just me. It’s a lonely place to be.
One couple previously had a disparity, but have now equalled out, or close to it. Unsurprisingly, they are both happy about this, as it takes the financial pressure off her when it comes to having a family (particularly, god forbid, if pregnancy turned out to be difficult healthwise) which is now officially in the works! They’re working toward him getting a well-paying job so she can stay home with kids like she hopes to.
Every other couple has fallen apart – and money has been a factor for at least some, and possibly all of them. It’s such a common thread, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. There were elements of them supporting, enabling and being taken advantage of by their partners. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh; let’s say in every case, the dudes failed to step up and pull their own weight.
There’s also one woman I am acquainted with, who I thought might be a bit of a role model in that regard. There’s a loose parallel in our career paths and we both make more than our partner, but she’s about a decade older with kids. Yay, right? Unfortunately that illusion has been gradually shattered for me, as it’s becoming clearer that he doesn’t seem to contribute his fair share in any aspect of the relationship. And thus, theirs is not one I aspire to emulate.
But even if you have an awesome partner in every way, who pulls their weight overall, but just HAPPENS to earn a lot less….
Any kind of imbalance or inequality in a relationship can be tough to navigate. When it comes to money, it’s just easier if you’re roughly equal earners.
There are the values you think you have, and then the actual feelings you have.
If I’m being honest with myself, I’d love a partner who earned as much or more than me. It’s not the outearning in itself that’s the problem; it’s the flow-on effects.
Where it really becomes an issue is when kids come into the picture.
I don’t need to be looked after – but it’d be nice to have the option, you know?
There are moments where it just feels like a rough deal all round. Not only do I have to make the bacon but bake the bun too? (Worst mixed metaphor ever. Sorry!)
But then again, we couldn’t have predicted this; 7 years ago I thought I’d be a journalist forever and he’d work up to being a qualified tradie who’d earn the bulk of our income. How things change! And who knows what else might happen in the next couple of years?
For now though, I think about the practicalities of eventually starting a family and am discouraged.
The ideal would be if we both individually earned an income that would support a family, but that is not the case. The loss of my income while on parental leave reduces our income by … well, a hell of a lot more than half. And our household income is not particularly high to begin with.
“Doesn’t that worry you?” my best friend asked me recently over lunch as we talked numbers.
Hell yes, it does.
Financially speaking, here’s what me being the breadwinner means if we want to start a family:
1) I won’t be able to take a full year off (which is the norm here). Which isn’t too terrible; six months seems like a reasonable chunk to me and that would be manageable if we start planning ahead ASAP, though it’ll definitely be a stretch. I’m fairly certain I’ll be well and ready to get back to interacting with adults and doing what I’m best at by then!
2) I won’t be able to quit my job and stay home if I change my mind. As above, I suspect I’d be itching to get back to work … but what if I’m not? I just don’t know, is all. It’s pretty unlikely though, so I’m just going to entirely ignore this possibility.
Plus, I can’t help but worry about the off chance that something throws a spanner in the works healthwise.
Everything might work out if everything goes to plan. But what if I have health issues in pregnancy, like some of my current and former colleagues? What if I need to give up work earlier than planned or return later than planned?
Between biology, the work world, parental leave law (less than minimum wage for approx 4 months here), a society centuries in the making … no wonder it’s so hard to break the mould of men working and women staying home. (Not all of us aspire to entrepreneurship, remember.) It’s just not set up for it.
There’s the long game to consider as well, which didn’t even occur to me until a friend pointed this out to me: Add in the fact that often 1) women earn less than men do in the same job 2) have to spend more on certain things by way of being female 3) live longer and thus need more saved for retirement. Ouch.
I don’t mean this to come off in a whiny, woe-is-me way. I feel like a bad feminist just for writing this all out (hence the title); I feel like I should be loudly and proudly proclaiming that I can and will do it all! Especially when I’ve been slammed on Facebook in the past for even daring to suggest otherwise, when I shared a link to a post that talked about how unrealistic it is to expect to have it all.
We’ll muddle through, I’m sure. One way or another – we’ve got time to figure it out. I’ve been running some numbers here and there. But this is one financial area where I want to leave as little to chance as possible.
I think these are completely legitimate concerns that people don’t always want to talk about.
I am currently the bigger earner, but know I will want to start a family one day and couldn’t see is living comfortably off less than half off the lower income only.
I think to pull it off successfully take a lot of planning. I’m currently stashing 50% of income so in a worse case scenario I could take off 2-3 years, spend it all and have to go back to work.
Ideally though, Mr B will be successful in his new career path, slowly building up to my income level in 3-5 years. I’m also actively looking for opportunities to work from home part time to be able to have a buffer.
This is the dream but who knows how it will turn out.
I am grappling with exactly this. I have an awesome husband but at the moment I am the higher earner which hasn’t caused that many issues however now than we are considering having a family I realise how it limits my options. If I were to go on parental leave (I’m in AUS so also 1 year) it’d cut household earnings substantially which then of course puts even more pressure on me – bringing home the bacon and baking the bun is a lot to put on one person! I don’t necessarily agree with the gender roles (mom stays at home, dad works) but it’s obvious why it works.
I have a male co-worker whose wife was a very high earner. They have 2 teenage children. I know in the past she used to get on him to be more aggressive in his efforts to earn a higher income and I suspect the teasing was a way of addressing an issue without being confrontational. Recently she had some health issues and had to leave her job and she now has anxiety issues. A contributing factor was that she was carrying the pressure all those years of not only being a higher earner for the household but also bringing life into the world and then raising them. Not to say he didn’t also parent but he’s a more laid back guy so I can see how that must’ve played out.
This is not to say that this will happen to either of us but it did give me pause and your blog came out so quite timely of a story to share.
This is such a long comment now! But the way I’m trying to address this is I’m now working hard with my partner to develop proper side hustles to supplement income and hopefully should I become pregnant – the pressure won’t be as overwhelming as it would be right now.
You got crap on Facebook for suggesting that “having it all” is unrealistic?? It’s math. There are limited hours in a day, and with multiple priorities, something’s got to give. What that something is depends on the individual and the situation, but something’s got to give.
You’re not a bad feminist to talk about your feelings, and to be concerned about providing — and you already know that. Sending happy thoughts your way. 😊
It was a Penelope Trunk post in fairness and she is controversial, but as you say it’s simple math, so I was surprised at the backlash to what seemed a pretty common sense post (even if coming from PT) Also this was a few years ago when I feel like the internet was all 100% RAH RAH, DON’T SETTLE, YOU CAN HAVE EVERYTHING, DO WHAT YOU LOVE whereas now there seem to be more diverse and realistic perspectives being accepted /shrug
Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend sharing a PT post under any circumstances. She makes everyone mad.
I don’t agree with everything she writes but I do agree with a lot, if not the majority. I think she says a lot of things that make people uncomfortable but are true – just not things we like to admit. I don’t share a lot of her stuff, but I do when I think it’s particularly on the money.
It’s an odd coincidence that just before I saw this post I was thinking about how I could have a full time job just taking care of myself, with maybe a little time left over to take care of my dog. (But of course, I have to work to bring in the $$ to do that.) More that once in the past week or so I’ve had the thought that I just don’t have the time or resources to handle another person in my life. And here you are writing about the challenges of doing just that: balancing self care with care for others in your life (your partner, your future child, etc.). Because creating and continuing financial stability *is* self-care, after all. It’s genuinely a tough nut to crack. Sorry, no sage words of advice, just: I hear you.
YEP! I earn more and my partner is self-employed, adding in the bonus lack of predictability from month to month. We started talking about kids recently and the reality of our financial situation only really dawned on me then. And it scares me. I love working and am a diehard feminist, and I hate that I feel scared about this, but I totally am. Thank you for writing a real, thoughtful, non-sugar-coated post about this.
I’ve had more than a few relationships end because of income disparity. The worst one I made almost 2x what he did (me highly compensated IT, him a public school teacher). He couldn’t handle me having so much extra and left. Oh well. I enjoyed my three week trip to Australia even more without him there! I would also like to find someone with roughly equal salary, as that would make things so much easier!
I am, also, the majority breadwinner in our household. Some years it was 3x. We relocated due to my job and my husband got a new job. So the gap has decreased but I still make more than 2x. It’s hard sometimes. While I’m not thinking about kids, I can totally see why I would not be able to stay at home. No way we could lose my salary. Although this is negated by me not wanting to be at SAHM. A lot of it has to do with growing up in a traditional household. My mom was a SAHM. I was/am still traumatized by seeing the interactions between my mom and dad. My dad controlling the money because he earned it. My mom NOT even being on the checking account as an owner. BUT despite my efforts to “modernize” my mom, I haven’t had much effect. So I’ve gone the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
All I want is 50/50 partnership financially, emotionally, household, etc. I think regardless being 100% financially responsible for the household is stressful, regardless, if you are a woman or a man. I think because of societal norms, it’s more acceptable and encouraged for the man to be the responsible one. And his stress does not seem “abnormal.”
I completely understand where you are coming from.
Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and I think it *is* feminist to say you want more options. I am concerned too that I have limited options when I eventually have a family due to being the female breadwinner. We have the choice now to follow my husbands career instead of mine but the pay cut would be drastic to our household income. We’ve instead followed my job opportunities to increase our savings more quickly. Lately, I’m wondering if we should try to spend a few years building up his career though so it’s in a sustainable place when we do have kids. (His career opportunities are always in random parts of the US due to the nature of his work). The opportunity to make money online has helped me make peace with the current plan (following my career now but planning to switch to his down the road when we have kids, supplemented by my passive income). It all makes me anxious though. I’m super proud of being the FBW but soo anxious too.
This is something I think about a lot, as a single person in the dating world. I am looking for someone who earns more than me, plain and simple. I have worried about finances my whole life, and my parents constantly fought about money, and that’s just not something I want for myself. Maybe that’s not feminist of me, to want to be supported in that way, but nature vs nuture, I guess. I don’t want my kids to worry about money at a young age like I did. *shrugs*
Thank you for saying this out loud, in words, on paper (err…bloggy “paper”). I’m not in your situation as my partner makes more than I do, but once upon a time he was a struggling entrepreneur and I would sometimes have to purchase his groceries. It worried me – but I couldn’t say it out loud without being lambasted by others about why that would matter, why does a man have to earn more, what are my intentions, blah blah. The usual judgment.
Now he’s killing it financially and I can’t admit out loud that I’m relieved, that I’m happy he picks up the grocery tab more often than I do, that he’s the breadwinner and I feel more secure, for the same damn reasons I was getting fried when he was in a slump. There’s no winning.
So overall, screw whatever anyone thinks, how you feel is how you feel and I personally totally agree with your line of thinking. Heck, science tells us women have an evolutionary propensity to seek security even during ovulation, let alone child-bearing. We’re wired to seek safety and security for the sake of balancing out the vulnerability of birth and child-rearing. I’m not playing the evolution card, but it just makes a whole lot of sense, no? A woman wanting more security so that she can safely bring up a little life that needs her for all it’s worldly needs seems like a damn good reason in my books to want to ensure she’s in a safe, secure place with dependable resources.
There really is no winning, is there?
All that stuff you mention .. that’s exactly why I couldn’t/didn’t really talk to anyone about how bloody hard it was for me to be the sole earner while he was out of work. I don’t think it is something anyone can truly, fully understand unless they have recently been through it themselves. Even online, I got a little of that kind of blowback when I wrote about it at the time. So, yeah, it’s really damn lonely.
I think it’s really normal to want to have the option to be home with kids, and I wanted that option too. You’re situation is sticky because it doesn’t necessarily make sense for you to stay home even if that became your heart’s greatest desire. When kids are in the picture, it’s hard to choose time away from them.
I was the bigger earner for a long time, while my husband worked to build his career. Luckily, he started outearning me right around the time that I had our first son. I never ever in a million years expected that I would want to give up my fabulous job for the less glamorous job (or so I believed) of raising our son–but yet I did. I knew that being a SAHM wasn’t for me, so I found a part-time job and now work three days a week, making 50% of what I made before, my husband takes on overtime sometimes to make up the money difference, and honestly? I am the happiest I have ever been and our relationship is the strongest it’s ever been. I am so happy and lucky that my husband’s career has given me the flexibility to choose what I wanted to do with my career. And for now, putting it on hold was what I needed to do for my sanity. I don’t care if it’s un-feminist of me–these days feminism is about choosing to do what is best for you at the moment. You can absolutely have it all, just not at the same time.
It’s sad that the world makes women feel “bad” for being a breadwinner. Shouldn’t we want to be that, no matter what gender we are?
But I can see it. When my husband and I first moved in together, I was making nearly 3 times the amount he was. Although that didn’t last and we are now pretty close to earning the same, I could see that it really bothered him. I wish it didn’t.
This is an important topic and I think one of the ways the wage gap continues. Because us women might end up having to leave work for you know, growing a a baby and then delivering and taking care of said baby. I ended up having my kids young, which I’m glad about now, but in often think how much harder it would all be to navigate if I decided I wanted kids later (Though I currently don’t work full time). Thank you for giving voice to this.
It’s good to hear what younger women have to say about your viewpoint, which happens to coincide with mine — something I had to keep under wraps during many years in academic departments dominated by radical feminists.
When I was a young women’s-libber, back in the 1970s, what most of us wanted was the OPTION to earn as much as the men in our jobs, not the REQUIREMENT to earn. In other words, a woman who wanted to stay home with her children should be able to do so; a woman who wanted a career and fair pay for the work she did should have it. A woman who wanted a little of both should be able to raise a child with the household help of her (usually male) partner and also should be paid as much as a man in her trade or profession.
But that’s not how it’s turned out. Partly because of the crazy inflation and partly because of the distortion of those early ideals, both members of a couple pretty much _have_ to work to keep a middle-class roof over their heads. Ironically, there’s no more real choice for women now than there was then. In those days, it was screw you if you want to have a real job with real pay. Today, it’s you work full-time and farm out the kids to day care…or else. Neither of those are desirable conditions.
If that’s un-feminist, I’m sorry. Not all of us wanted to see the old “no choice” morph into a new manifestation of “no choice.”
Thanks for bringing this up! I think it’s such an important thing that no one really talks about. Money was a big, big factor in my last break up – my boyfriend didn’t work as much as I did, nor did he earn as much, neither of which I minded. What I did mind was that he didn’t pull his weight in other aspects of our lives. Not only was he working less than me, but I would often come home to find dinner uncooked and the apartment looking exactly as I’d left it that morning. I started to feel like a nagging mom and finally kicked him out.
With my current boyfriend, we are on roughly equal terrain right now – we both work the same amount of hours and he actually makes a few cents/hour more than I do. However, with our career tracks looking the way they do now, it’s likely that I will end up making more in the future. I’m not too worried about this, even with previous experience, because he absolutely will pull his weight in the rest of the relationship if/when it comes to that. Not to mention that when we’ve discussed the possibility of children, it’s come up a few times that he would like to be a stay at home dad (not my personal biggest aspiration). This relieves some of that bacon/bun pressure I think. (Key note: any kids would be so far in the future that this theoretical discussion might change quite a bit in the coming years.)
One last thing: I think in this day and age, lots of women expect so so much of themselves (and sometimes other women). You don’t have to do it all to be a “good” feminist.
This is a thought provoking post.
In your 3 reasons of the longer picture, while the pay disparity and longer life expectancy are frequently talked about, the point about women having to spend more in some aspects, especially fashion and grooming is one I had never thought of.
In my case, after much cajoling the husband finally left a well-paying corporate job to start a marketing business. Currently I bring home the bacon of which quite a bit goes out to repay loans. We have been married for almost 4 years now and planning for a family is something we would want to do.
Luckily, in India as a law women get a 6-month maternity leave at full salary (Yay!). Employees can also utilise any stacked up leave to extend that period.
So as of now I got my fingers crossed that as and when we do decide to take the plunge into family planning, it would go smooth and the husband’s business would have picked up 🙂