Breaking the Taboo of Earning More Than Your Husband

Couple sitting face-to-face at restaurant table, holding hands
Couple sitting face-to-face at restaurant table, holding hands

"I've always earned more than my husband and he never cared. In fact, he feels it's great to have extra money to travel or have a beach house through my work. He feels sure of his work and of himself. "

The sentence, pronounced by a prominent professor at the business school of an Ivy League University, was like an epiphany for me.

After years and years of hiding like an ugly truth -- or a wound, at least -- that my husband earns less than me, I finally saw a confident woman talking unapologetically about the issue, one of the biggest taboos that persists in the so called "work and family" tensions for women and men in the 21st-century.

I will never stop thanking my teacher, because after her statement, I felt free to talk about it without concerns or fears of being misunderstood. But most of women on that situation don't have that chance, and think there's something wrong with them or their marriages.

And I remembered that very well that when I recently read Andrew Moravsi's article in The Atlantic Monthly. Under the title "Why I Put my Wife's Career First," he explains his life as the husband of Anne Marie Slaughter, the woman who sparked a controversy of proportions with an article in the same journal, three years ago, called "Why we can't have it all." There, she explained why she had to leave a very high-level work in the State Department to take better care of her family, unleashing waves of support and disapproval. Her point was that even though there's been improvement, it's still very difficult to balance family and career for women, and sometimes, it's simply impossible.

She is now publishing an interesting book called "Unfinished business," and in the referred article her husband wrote about the issue from his point of view. He explains why he chose to be the "leading parent" for his family because his wife's work was indeed more demanding, plus she had more ambition and "drive." He, prominent university professor, has had a good career, although he knows that sometimes his family priority has made him loose some opportunities.

However, no regrets: he believes that being a great parent is rewarding and central to the welfare of all. And it's a role that can be taken by the mother or the father. When men take it, everyone wins: men win, children specially, having daily male approach to resolve conflicts, and women who want it can develop their careers with more intensity without guilt.

This is a valid option, but is still seen as an abnormality. Despite the social changes, the model we have stuck in our heads as "normal and desirable" is that the father is the main provider and the mother, the primary caregiver. Shared roles are not seen as usual. Even less that a father may provide less and care more.

Moravcsik's narrative reflects that in detail. A woman in the audience of one of her wife's lectures demanded to see him in person, to see if he "remained an alpha male."

The phrase reflects a shocking reality: a man who earns less than his wife ceases to be alpha male. Or man at all!. Does anyone realize the violence that implies that belief, and how strong you have to be to not feel defeated if you live that situation?

Testimonies like his help to gradually create a new reality, where old stereotypes are torn down, and couples can share, with more freedom and flexibility, the joys of raising and providing together for a family, without making calculations of who is more devoted to the children or who receives the largest check pay.