It’s no longer rare for a woman to out-earn her husband. Statistics tell us that nearly 40 percent of wives earn more than their husbands, and one study found that while the husband’s contribution to family income has declined in recent years, the wife’s has increased. This should come as good news, considering the fact that the wage gap still exists, paid maternity leave is not guaranteed, and despite being considered “top performers” by their companies, women are less likely than men to receive promotions. But, as it turns out, many women remain ambivalent about making more money than men.
In a new study by the Census Bureau, aptly titled “Manning up and womaning down,” researchers compared the earnings reported for husbands and wives in the Current Population Survey with their “true” earnings from administrative income-tax records. They found that when the wife is the bigger earner in a heterosexual marriage, she is more likely to underreport her salary while the husband is more likely to inflate his.
“On average, the gap between a husband’s survey and administrative earnings is 2.9 percentage points higher if his wife earns more than he does, and the gap between a wife’s survey and administrative earnings in 1.5 percentage points lower if she earns more than her husband does,” the report reads.
Researchers suggest that these results show how gendered social norms can influence seemingly objective survey reporting. “One possible reason is that social norms interact with knowledge. When a wife outearns her husband, both the husband and the wife may be uncomfortable – or believe that an interviewer will be uncomfortable – with their violation of the male-breadwinner norm,” they write.
This just goes to show that we, as a society, are locked into longstanding gender roles in the household. Why should a woman feel so guilty or ashamed of her financial success that she lies about it? Because many men feel emasculated by a woman who makes more than them. And, sadly, this often has negative repercussions on relationships. A study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that a wife making just $5,000 a year more than her husband was associated with a greater risk of divorce, while another study from Cornell University found that a man is more likely to cheat on his partner if he is financially dependent on her.
For all the progress we have made, this evidence suggests that women’s gains, specifically economic gains, are still seen as a threat. Changing this will take continued conversation, so consider this permission to raise your voice.