Long gone are the days when it was the norm for women to stay at home doing household chores while their husbands went to work.
Since the rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s, gender roles have slowly been challenged.
Data from the American Community Survey suggests that among married heterosexual couples in the US, a quarter of wives are the primary breadwinners in their family. In 1960, the share was only 6%.
An increasing number of women no longer adhere to the the idea of the feminine ideal of the stay-at-home mother and have entered the workforce or own businesses. Many of those who choose not to go into work or businesses do so by choice, rather than by imposition through societal norms.
As women have become empowered, the new-found financial freedom has led to the increasingly prevalent woman breadwinner phenomenon.
According to a survey conducted by African Bank and 1Life in 2017, a growing number of women in South Africa are becoming the primary breadwinners of their households.
This trend is paralleled in many parts of the world, where women in heterosexual marriages are increasingly earning more than their husbands, or in some cases, becoming the sole providers for their families.
Unfortunately, as one study found, “when the wife is the primary breadwinner, a plurality of women (41%) still take a lead role in housework. However, when the husband is the primary breadwinner, only 14% do more housework than their wives.”
This leaves women with more unpaid work on their plate, which may explain why, when it comes to family-life satisfaction, women who earn more than their husbands report lower satisfaction than their peers who have a lower income than their spouses.
As gender stereotypes and norms have shifted in the home and workplace, couples have had to navigate new power dynamics – with women taking a happiness penalty.
While some men are not opposed to their wives or partners being the breadwinners, many are not fully supportive of the shift or reversal of traditional roles.
In fact, according to The Atlantic, couples are reluctant to acknowledge the woman as the breadwinner when she outearns her husband, while the term is used to refer to a man without reluctance.
Why is this so? One reason is that couples “continue to idealize and privilege a family structure with a male breadwinner and a female homemaker. Recognizing women as breadwinners threatens the idea that a family fits into that mold. When wives earn more than husbands, couples often reframe the value of each spouse’s work to elevate the husband’s work as being more prestigious and downplaying the importance of the woman’s job,” reads the report in The Atlantic.
The complexity of this power dynamic can present several challenges for the relationship. Once this “provider” role has been stripped away or diminished substantially, some men feel shame instead of being empowered by knowing that two working adults doubly cushion the family.
There might also be an unhealthy and heightened feeling of competitiveness in the relationship. These issues are often compounded by external pressures and expectations of society, friends, and family.
On a practical level, the questions around finances and splitting the bills can become landmines when couples do not discuss these matters openly.
It’s easy for money to be mistakenly equated with power. This can become toxic for the dynamic in the relationship as arguments around money can escalate and compromise the partnership.
Farnoosh Torabi, author of the book “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women”, explores different ways of dealing with some of the common issues experienced by breadwinning women. Her number one tip is to “enlist help, support, and accountability from your partner”.
She suggests couples become a team so that their partnership thrives. They also need to ensure they have open and honest communication at all times.
She also explains that things can change overnight [as they have due to Covid-19] and that the best couples acknowledge that they can play different roles at different phases of their relationship.
Are you a woman who is the sole provider for your family? Share your story with us here.