Could you marry a woman who out-earns you? Conditioned by enlightened, 21st century thinking about gender, many men would likely answer (or at least try to answer), “Yes.” It’s politically correct and the scenario is easy when it’s hypothetical. But on an emotional level, this power redistribution is difficult to square, for men and women alike. Indeed, the inverse—Could you marry a man who earns less than you?—may be just as challenging for women. In 2003, New York magazine ran the story, “Alpha Women, Beta Men,” about Upper East Side couples who suffered exactly this dynamic. The men felt emasculated; the women, less feminine. The couples tried to conceal the problem from others and even from themselves. Confiding in another woman who also out-earned her husband, one woman noted, “It’s like one of those things where you realize you’re married to people who drink.” The relationships almost invariably ended in divorce.
Americans’ views don’t seem to have evolved much in the time since. In 2010 Pew Research conducted a survey asking, “How important is it for a man to be able to support a family financially if he wants to get married?” 67% of Americans responded that it was very important. When the same question was posed about women, only 33% of Americans thought their financial situation mattered. But it is perhaps the following remark, written in 2011 in the comments section of “Alpha Women, Beta Men,” that best captures our feelings on the matter: “Kurt” writes, “The women in the article are almost certainly not ‘marriage material.’ They appear to be very controlling bitches and that is not attractive. They have probably always been like that for their entire lives. Maybe the only men who were willing to tolerate the bad attitude were the unambitious losers they married?”
The uncomfortable truth is that money-making and earning power lie at the heart of our conception of American masculinity. This is deeply detrimental to women—not because it prevents women from advancing in the workplace per se, but because it prevents men from participating equally in the activities of the home. And as Anne-Marie Slaughter emphasizes in her new book, Unfinished Business, women don’t advance at work in the same way, at the same pace as their male counterparts, when caregiving responsibilities—cooking, cleaning, carpooling, arranging play dates and doctors’ appointments—fall predominantly on their shoulders. 21st century men tend to support their wives’ careers, but when something has to give, it’s almost inevitably the woman’s career that suffers. Leaning in more aggressively isn’t enough to tip the scale unless men also start to lean out.
Read the full article in The New Republic