Let's Stop Shaming Women For Outearning Their Male Partners

We shouldn't be focusing on the so-called "costs" of reaching greater parity between the genders. We should be focusing on making men feel empowered and worthwhile in a variety of marital and financial dynamics.
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Woman working in kitchen - IS817-486
Woman working in kitchen - IS817-486

Just when women are poised to become the primary earners in the majority of U.S. households, and men seem more willing than ever before to be in equitable marriages, a study emerges claiming that this new world order may hurt your sex life and add to your stress. Awesome.

New research published online this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin concluded that men in couples where their wives became the primary breadwinners were more likely to use erectile dysfunction drugs. The authors looked at data gathered from over 200,000 heterosexual married couples in Denmark between 1997 and 2006. They summed up their results:

We provide evidence that there is a distinct psychological and sexual cost to upward income comparisons in marriage. We observe a sharp increase (approximately 10 percent) in the use of ED drugs when women slightly outearn their husbands, compared with when they are slightly outearned.

In other words, when women begin to earn more money than their husbands (even just a little bit more money), their husbands are significantly more likely to use prescription medication to deal with sexual dysfunction. And women who become breadwinners during the course of their marriages tend to experience great levels of stress and are more likely to take anti-anxiety medication. Interestingly, the researchers did NOT observe these patterns among unmarried couples or couples where the woman was earning more than her husband before they got married.

The basic takeaway here is that earning more than your husband leaves you more anxious and him unable to get it up. This strikes me as the kind of study that should come with several caveats:

1. Being the primary breadwinner has always been stressful -- regardless of gender. Having to earn enough to provide for your own needs is difficult. Providing for an entire family is a lot of financial responsibility for any one person to bear, so is it really all that surprising that women who take on that role experience higher levels of anxiety than those who don't?

2. Let's make sure we're not blaming women for damaging their husbands' erections. We should be celebrating successful women, not making them feel as though having more financial power puts their relationships at risk. If husbands of women who make more are more likely to use erectile dysfunction drugs, that correlation doesn't necessarily mean that a woman's making more directly causes her husband's sexual difficulties.

3. Why focus on the so-called "costs" of reaching greater parity between the genders? We should be focusing on making men feel empowered and worthwhile in a variety of marital and financial dynamics. Earn more than your wife? Great. Stay at home and raise your children? Great. Have a two-income household where your incomes "see-saw" back and forth, as Hanna Rosin describes in the "End Of Men"? Great.

The "trend" of (some) women out-earning (some) of their male counterparts shows no sign of going away. Salon reported that a 2010 Pew survey found that the percentage of wives earning more than their husbands had jumped from 4 percent to 22 percent. And urban, 20-something single women already out-earn their male peers on average.

The answer to these changing dynamics is not to talk about how emasculated men are going to feel as they occur. Instead, let's encourage both men and women to embrace them. Because at the end of the day, hopefully you're marrying someone who you'll love -- and want to have great sex with -- regardless of the size of their paycheck.


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