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Does your wife earn more than you?
Deepti Dadlani
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July 06, 2007

If we were to explore gender stereotypes, one that definitely figures somewhere at the top is that a man should be the breadwinner of the family, or that a man should earn more than his wife. But the women of today are proving themselves in every field possible -- they have been to the moon and back, they operate local trains and for that matter even participate in car rallies. Women achievers have earned a respectful place in the world, and many have done so with the support of their loved ones, but sadly enough, even more continue to face constant opposition.

The woman  of today has many roles to play in society -- that of a mother, a wife, a friend, a boss, a colleague, etc. Each of the roles has their set of compromises, boons and concerns. An issue that particularly seems to be plaguing couples in recent times, however, is that working women sometimes earn more than their husbands.

While men are still the primary wage earners of most households today, there are now a significant number of homes in which the women earn more. The reversal can be difficult for a man to come to terms with, as a friend of mine has been discovering over the last few years -- "It isn't that we feel we should earn more than our wives; it's just that we were taught that we should be able to take care of our families ourselves," he says.

In such a situation, a man may experience feelings of doubt and diminished self-confidence, which is perfectly normal. This tends to happen most often when the shift is sudden and unexpected. For example, a man who suffers an accident and is rendered unable to work may find it more difficult, because he is used to making more money than his wife.

Dealing with a situation like this is important, since it can be the cause of much distress. Bearing this fact in mind, here are a few tips that can help dissipate the stress it causes:

Teamwork

It's important for men and women to view marriage as a setting for teamwork, rather than one for competition. The money brought into the house doesn't belong to either one exclusively. A common practice followed in many households today is that the man's pay is used for household expenditure, while the wife's pay is her own. This is unhealthy, because a husband then starts to feel undervalued.

Learn to let go

When your wife is the primary earner, it is important to learn to let go of ego hassles. Just because you earn less doesn't mean that you are worthless. Rather, try and take pride in your wife's achievements; accept the fact that she works hard and needs to be appreciated.

Realistic expectations

It is important to set aside your emotions and embrace the fact that money coming into your household is shared -- it translates into a better lifestyle for both you and your wife. Irrespective of whether the money is spent on repaying a car loan, or is being put aside as savings, at the end of the day it is bettering the life of a couple. Many men -- some of whom claim to be liberal -- resent their wives for being the primary wage-earners, which undoubtedly causes a rift in the marriage. Do not expect your wife to be apologetic for making more money than you, just as you don't need to apologise for making less.

Empathise

Many women have stated that they end up feeling guilty and dejected at pulling a larger salary than their husbands. "Every time there is a small argument about unrelated issues, Raj* always finds a way to bring up the fact that I earn more than him, and therefore feel that I can get my own way around the house," says Kavita Kishnani*.

It is important to ensure that your wife doesn't feel guilty about her success, so continue to encourage her to pursue her dreams. This does not mean that you have to make peace with the situation right away, but neither should you vent your frustrations on your wife.  

Communicate

Sujata Mishra * says, "I found out only after our separation that my husband Vikram* used to feel hurt and embarrassed when our friends used to tease him about the fact that I earned more than he did. I just wish he had spoken to me about it."

It is important for both partners to talk about their feelings, whether they are hurt, excited or simply dejected by the situation. At the same time, it is essential for both partners to listen to what the other has to say in a non-defensive way. Pent up feelings usually lead to mistrust and confusion, creating a communication gap between couples.

Define success

Examine your own definition of success. Is your success defined by whether or not you earn more than your wife? Think about your strengths as well, and about how you contribute to your household. Take pride in your own work, irrespective of how much you earn. At the end of the day, you are making a contribution to your future financial security.

Social pressures

Sure, the concept of a wife being the primary wage-earner in the family is not widely accepted, and it is possible that you may be ridiculed by some. At the same time, however, many men suffer from self-inflicted pressure. Take, for example, the case of Anil Khanna*, whose wife brings home a larger salary. Says he, "There have been several times when I have attended a social gathering with my wife, and felt that the people around are thinking of me as a lesser man. After awhile, however, I realised that I was putting myself under scrutiny for no rhyme or reason."

At times, you may have family and/ or friends confronting you about the fact that your wife earns more than you. Stand up for yourself and for your spouse -- at the end of the day, it is a matter that concerns only the two of you.

At this point in time, it has become clear that equality is growing. The concept of a wife running a household and waiting to serve her husband dinner each night isn't a necessary concept anymore -- nor should it be. Family dynamics should be evaluated as individual cases, rather than making generalisations based on outdated tradition.


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