Why Women Should Embrace Their Breadwinning Status (and Stop Complaining About It)

A few weeks ago, I was sucked into a rabbit hole of the worst kind – an article (and comments section) that piqued my interest in the most consuming way possible. A post about Conflicted Millennial Women Breadwinners offered a glimpse into the minds of younger women who earn more than their husbands or boyfriends, and seemingly hate it.

The author, Ashley Ford, a breadwinner herself, polled more than 130 other female breadwinners to find out how they coped with out-earning their partners. The consensus: They disliked earning more than their husbands and boyfriends. Asked how they would feel if they were the breadwinner forever, the female respondents used words like ‘tired,’ ‘exhausted,’ and ‘resentful.’

Some of the women claimed to be stressed out and overwhelmed, while also feeling pressured to stay in jobs they didn’t enjoy. Others lamented their breadwinner status could prevent them from pursuing careers they really love.

But, for some of the women, being the breadwinner was okay – at least for now. Ford herself reached the conclusion that she was fine with out-earning her partner as long as she “loved her work.”

She then went on to explore male and female roles within the home, including the fact that today’s women still do more than their share of “invisible labor” – a.k.a. household chores. Yet, at the same time, the piece shared studies that claimed women find men who do chores less attractive. Another study she cited claimed that men who earn less are more likely to cheat. Who knew?

But the final conclusion was probably the most telling. According to the author, “The general consensus of this group seems to be that the theory of being the partner who earns more is appealing to millennial women. They want their partners to feel happy and free and like they shouldn’t be expected to support the entire family unit simply based on their gender, but reality throws everyone for a loop.”

In other words, they like the idea of being the breadwinner, but not the in-the-trenches work, career sacrifices, or household discord it can sometimes involve.

Further, being a female breadwinner is a financial burden in a way that doesn’t apply to men. “Being the breadwinner, or sole earner, raises the stakes for these respondents internally, in the same way it does for men externally,” Ford writes. “For many men, having a wife who doesn’t work isn’t just a financial burden, but a social status symbol,” she writes.

After I read the piece, I felt both confused and angry. Why on Earth do we have a separate set of rules for men and women when we are supposedly (and rightfully) equal?

And, what about the gender wage gap? With women earning 83 cents for every dollar a man earns, shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that some women are killing it? Perhaps the wage gap isn’t solved, but isn’t this a start? Women have spent millennia fighting for equality, the last hundred years or so spent on securing equal pay for equal work. Now we’re writing articles about women who struggle with earning too much? Gag me.

And, last I checked, wasn’t it taboo to date or marry a man for money anyway? By dating a man who earns less, aren’t they following their hearts? Isn’t that in itself the ultimate freedom worth celebrating?

Lastly, what about the men? I’m willing to bet millions of men have worked in jobs they hated and felt, weary, stressed, and quite possibly resentful. Where’s the article on that?

I had so many questions, most of which remain unanswered. But, I digress. After reading the piece and the comments, I reached the conclusion that the underlying issue these women face isn’t who earns the money – it’s that younger couples may see marriage differently than I do. Because, when you’re committed to sharing everything (not just money, but responsibilities, too), the way these people keep score is just plain weird.

How I Became a Generation X Breadwinner

The piece may have been about millennial breadwinners, but I’m not so far off. I’m 37 years old this year, which plants me in the tail end of Generation X. And yes, I earn more than my husband. And no, I do not care, nor do I care if you care.

And unlike some of the men in the article and the comments of the piece in question, my husband isn’t butt-hurt that I earn more, either. I would even go so far as to say he’s pretty darn happy about it.

Still, the disparity of our incomes is a fairly new thing in our marriage. When my husband and I first joined forces, I worked in childcare for meager pay. Within a few years, I was able to graduate to administrative work that garnered a bigger paycheck. However, enduring a pair of pregnancies, two maternity breaks, and two kids in daycare pretty much erased my income for a few years.

Did my husband complain? Never. He went to work every day with bells on despite the fact he worked 50 to 60 hours a week at times and was constantly called out at night. As a mortician, he often worked weekends, holidays, and late evenings while I stayed home with the kids.

Looking back, I’m 100% sure my husband was not “living his dream” or “pursuing his passions” as he prepared the dead for burial and dealt with grieving families. He loved the work, but the hours and the constant pressure took a toll on all of us.

Within a few years, I decided to dive into writing and start my own website alongside my husband. At first, I created content part-time while forging ahead in my full-time job. My husband worked on our blog while I wrote. That often meant working 40+ hours at work and another 20 at home. Was it easy? Not at all. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, I would. I wanted something better than what I had before, so I went for it.

Do you know who eventually let me leave my steady and decent-paying job to pursue my passion?

My husband. I always had his unwavering support, and he always had my back.

Fortunately, we succeeded at building something sustainable and, a few years after that, my husband was finally able to quit his mortician job to work at home with me.

These days, I create content for top publications, own my own money-making website (with my husband), and have my own course for freelance writers.

And, you know what? I regularly earn 400% more than my husband does. And it’s totally cool with both of us.

How I ‘Cope’ With Being a Female Breadwinner

It’s funny what happens when you share your money. For us, sharing means we don’t have to care who earns how much. When my husband used to get bonuses at work, I always celebrated as if they were mine. “What should we do with your Christmas bonus?” I would ask him. And we would sit together and dream and plot something fun, like a vacation or weekend trip with the kids.

Now that I’m earning more, we do the same thing. When we have a particularly good month, my husband literally radiates with happiness and pride. Who cares which one of us earned which share of the money? Because everything is “ours,” we both get to win.

And no, I don’t feel resentful. I feel proud – proud I am doing my part to take care of my family, and proud my earnings made it possible for my husband to leave a very difficult job. He still works his butt off like he always has, but he now does it from home without all the hassle and stress. I am so glad I was able to support him in ways I never dreamed of, just like he was there for me when I needed him to be. And it’s all possible because we share everything, including every cent we earn.

Sharing our finances makes everything easier, but it’s not all we do to make our household fair and equitable. We both work full-time, but we’re still equally responsible for the kids, the dishes, and the laundry.

We don’t split each chore evenly, however. Instead, we split up responsibilities based on our strengths. For example, I cook dinner while my husband helps the kids with their homework. Once we’re done eating together, we clean up together. I never take out the trash or the dog, but I do all the grocery shopping. My husband fixes everything that breaks and I make sure the kids have everything they need for school. Together, we make the whole thing work.

You know what else helps? We hired a housekeeper to deep clean our home every four weeks. Instead of bickering over who cleans the bathrooms and mops the floors, we pay someone $120 to do a bang-up job once per month. In between, we both sweep, mop, and wipe down counters as needed. For us, splurges like hiring a housekeeper are an essential part of maintaining a happy marriage.

But, the biggest thing that’s helped our marriage is the fact we are committed to being life partners. More than anything else, we know we are in this together. Sharing kids, a house, and our money is a lot easier when you’re someone’s teammate instead of their adversary. We don’t keep score because we absolutely refuse to. I am not my husband’s critic; I am his cheerleader and his #1 fan. And he is mine.

How to Embrace Your Role as a Female Breadwinner

If you’re a female breadwinner who’s resentful about your higher salary, step one to saving your marriage is getting over yourself. Yes, I went there. Please, for the love of God, realize how privileged you are to be a woman (or a human, even) with the capacity and talent to bring in a big paycheck. You’ve made it, and you should be proud!

Second, take an introspective look at your relationship and why you might be feeling resentful. Perhaps the problem isn’t the fact you earn more, but instead, how you view your situation.

Consider the possibility of sharing everything – including your money. Sit down and dream together; come up with life goals you can work toward as a team. Instead of “keeping score,” ask yourself how you can both utilize your talents to become the best “us” you can be. Celebrate one another and your collective achievements, monetary or otherwise. Remember, it’s easier to celebrate each other’s “wins” when you see your partner’s successes as your own.

And if your partner isn’t doing their share of the household work and childcare, call them out. It’s perfectly okay to earn less, but it’s not okay for one spouse to do all the cooking and cleaning and child-rearing. Also consider hiring a bi-weekly or monthly housekeeper. Even if you’re frugal, you may find it’s well worth it to pay someone to deep clean every few weeks. For us, it has been nothing short of life-changing.

Lastly, stop feeling resentful and replace those negative feelings with pride. You are smart, accomplished, and capable of earning enough to support yourself and your family. You have choices in life that millions of women around the world could only dream of – including the option to be with someone only because you love them.

For heaven’s sake, stop complaining and start owning your success.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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Are you a female breadwinner? If so, how do you feel about it? 

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.