Earning more than your partner
Do You Make More Than Your Partner? Do You Care?
06.05.18

Last week, a story about female breadwinners that was published on CNBC in May 2017 took an inexplicable second lap around the internet. “Millennial women are ‘worried,’ ‘ashamed’ of out-earning boyfriends and husbands,” the headline read alongside stock images of couples fighting, couples not fighting and, most curiously, a woman angrily smoking a cigarette in a winter outfit.

The piece was largely inspired by the one Ashley C. Ford wrote for Refinery 29 a week prior, also in 2017, which explored the social dynamic that occurs when monogamous heterosexual women earn more than their long-term partners. As a breadwinner herself, Ford pointed out that she harbors no particular feelings about it, but after surveying 130 anonymous millennial women, she learned that put her in the minority.

“When asked how they would feel if they knew right now that they would always be the breadwinner in their current marriages and relationships, words like ‘tired,’ ‘exhausted,’ and that special one, ‘resentful’ turned up over and over again,” Ford wrote.

When the piece took its aforementioned second Twitter lap, Ford took the chance to clarify something about her findings: They were not about men; they were about women.

When I reached out to Ford via email about her Tweets, she told me she kept seeing impassioned responses like, “If a man has a problem with this he can fuck off,” or, “My husband loves how much money I make,” and felt they’d missed the point.

“It wasn’t really about the men’s feelings at all. It was about the women, and how they felt living every day in a role that society has mostly only designed for men to hold.” She told me she was worried that women who’d seen themselves in her finding would interpret the Twitter backlash as making fun of their feelings. “I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed of their complex feelings about money. I wrote the article because I wanted to acknowledge and explore those feelings.”

That some people mistook Ford’s piece as calling out women for being either embarrassed by something they shouldn’t be or being married to bad men didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed that gender conversations often go this way, with women’s choices or feelings being criticized more critically than the tides that may have informed them. But in my view, conversations like the one Ford started are important for understanding just how deep conditioning and prejudice can run. Private, real-life feelings can often stand in stark contrast to public, theoretical ideals, and in my experience, examining that gap instead of maligning its existence is a more productive way to bridge it.

As Ford wrote:

“When we imagine the life of a woman who earns more than her husband, we do not consider the mental and emotional fortitude required to do so in a way that allows both partners to live fully, freely, and indeed happily. This lack of imagination means there are no templates for the necessary conversations about who does what, who pays for what, and how this uncommon dynamic feels day-to-day, for both partners.”

Which brings me to the question I came here to ask: If you’re a female breadwinner, how do you feel about making more than your partner? And how do you feel about that feeling? There are no wrong answers, just honest ones.

Photo by Alfred Gescheidt/Getty Images.

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