Are 'breadwinner' wives happy?

An analysis by the Institute for Family Studies says far more married women out-earn their husbands than in the 1960s, but more of those who do face a 'happiness penalty' than women whose husbands earn more. The question is, why?

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  • Lilly Munster , 00
    June 7, 2019 11:07 p.m.

    It is very clear, from all the research on this very topic. Every Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Social Worker and Marriage Counselor has counseled married couples on this mine field of consequences. Women who work, particularly full time, whether married of single, especially when they are over 30 years old, inherit all the guilt and judgments that were always imposed on "career women." It's a cultural, and even religious byproduct. It is true that a large number of women are now the primary breadwinners, but they pay a price in self-loathing, shame and insecurity, even though they do very well in the workforce, whether in a factory or a board room. Men are not comfortable with any of the hallmarks, or even benefits of equality, because if challenges their idea of masculinity. Whether subtly or overtly, most men in this situation, married to a successful business woman, often do radiate resentment, to the point of questioning their own self worth. We are in a transition stage in our culture. But the increasingly successful performance of wives and mothers, whether in the classroom or in business, has upset the old model of thinking. We will be just fine, eventually.

  • EscherEnigma Ridgecrest, CA
    June 7, 2019 8:32 a.m.

    "Key words are "any more"."
    No they aren't.

    Your spouse is selfish? Too bad, support them anyway.

    You're selfish? Too bad, your spouse should support you anyway.

    If you are not prepared to be giving and self-sacrificing, then don't get married.

    If you expect equivalent exchange, then don't get married.

    It's a marriage not a business negotiation.

    And as a side note, I'm plenty familiar with men, both being one and being married to one. So kindly take your assumptions and keep them to yourself.

  • neece Hyde Park, UT
    June 7, 2019 7:53 a.m.

    I make more than my husband, however it all goes into the same pot. We also share the chores both inside and out. We are happy mostly because we have mutual respect and do things together.

  • Independent Henderson, NV
    June 6, 2019 11:27 a.m.


    "Making your spouses priorities *your* priorities is literally one of the things that helps build a strong healthy marriage."

    Yes, I know. Key words are "any more". Unfortunately this rule is almost always read "Making your *wife's* priorities *your" priorities is literally one of the things that helps build a strong healthy marriage. After all, happy wife, happy life."

    Men have other priorities than housework. Get to know them. Make them your own, or at least respect them.

  • EscherEnigma Ridgecrest, CA
    June 6, 2019 9:06 a.m.

    "You can't expect a man to make your priorities their priorities any more than he can expect you to make his priorities your priorities."

    Making your spouses priorities *your* priorities is literally one of the things that helps build a strong healthy marriage. If you can't expect your spouse to do this, you married the wrong person. If you refuse to do this, then you shouldn't marry.

  • dski Herriman, UT
    June 6, 2019 8:32 a.m.

    If these folks are so smart and know everything, why is it they have problems in their marriages? Most marriage experts I know of have gone through a divorce or two. Only so-called experts push the 50/50 deal. I was the breadwinner at one point and now my wife is. The major cause of her unhappiness comes from work related stress. From waking up early morning to fight the traffic going to work and return home, dealing with unruly customers, and or work policies to working long hours. Any incident during her day at work brings her a lot of stress or unhappiness. Unfortunately, she brings it home. Therefore, home is the only place she can blame for her unhappiness. At home, no one demands she must conform to a policy or customers are always right. As a husband, am I doing more since my wife works and I don't? The answer is NO. Regardless of what I do at home to reduce her stress, most of the time I rarely do it the right way, her way. In my case, the point of doing more is meaningless.

  • marybeshaw Pleasant Grove, UT
    June 6, 2019 12:34 a.m.

    I am a bit disappointed at the bias I feel coming through in this article, especially at the top. I feel judged, as one of the higher-earning wives (though a happy one). We had a lively discussion about this article in my working moms facebook group.
    I would like to see numbers like this specifically for Utah, but reported with less bias. Personally, I am more interested in the group with kids at home. Of course, take into account how involved both the husbands and wives are with the children, cooking, and housework.

    However, there is more to the story.

    Do they have professional help with the housework?
    Are the husbands employed properly for their education levels?
    Are the kids pitching in with chores, and who organizes that?
    How involved are the kids in extra-curricular activities?
    How much does everyone enjoy their jobs?
    Are there major health problems in the family?
    How educated are the spouses, and is there a disparity there?
    What is their household income bracket?

    I have a feeling the rest of the story would be incredibly enlightening.

  • VIDAR Murray, UT
    June 5, 2019 11:39 p.m.

    If you are keeping track of who is doing more; you will quickly find yourself alone. Main thing is be a team and be loyal to your spouse. Particularly with the kids. Do not put each other down and say you are doing more. Look at the big picture. Recognize what the other is doing. Including all the repairs, outside yard work, climbing on the roof to fix shingles. Carrying heavy things around. A loving supportive spouse gets a lot of help from the other.

  • bmoneyt Provo, UT
    June 5, 2019 6:50 p.m.

    At first when we got married, I made more money, and she was a stay at home housewife who got a sizable chunk of money from her ex-husband in child support. I was assured that she got more than she needed in child support and anything I could contribute outside of our shared bills would just be an added bonus. Which would have been super helpful as I didn’t make THAT much money and I pay child support on my two children.

    Her ex lost his job and stopped paying child support. She got a job and eventually after I quit my job and eventually found another she started out earning me. I could definitely feel her start to respect me less and because she was now working she wanted me to do most of not all of the cleaning of the house. She expected next to nothing out of her three children so that 98% of what she wanted me to do would be laundry and chores so she could sleep, (and she didn’t want the kids to have to do anything but homework) as she had taken a graveyard job (she preferred working graveyard and does to this day.

    I know I should have done more. I just didn’t think I should have to do most to all of the housework load with her kids never cleaning up after themselves.

  • Nichol Draper West Jordan, UT
    June 5, 2019 6:40 p.m.

    Second shift? Please, I work and have a stay at home wife but about seven years ago she had health problems that prevent her from most house work. I do all the cooking and cleaning, but with meal kits, roombas and automatic dishwashers housework isn't what it used to be. If you out earn your spouse and do more housework and you are not happy with your life, you have other problems.

  • Robert Kuesterman West Valley City, UT
    June 5, 2019 5:46 p.m.

    The study also found that while men spent less time with housework, they spent more time at the paying work.

    Wang wrote that married fathers "devote about as much overall time to work and family as married mothers."

  • citygrrl SALT LAKE CITY, UT
    June 5, 2019 5:28 p.m.

    Soon after we married my husband changed jobs and took a 33% pay cut. That cut meant that for about 15 years I earned more but it was worth it: he has had a good career in a less cutthroat environment, has earned great benefits and is much happier. We don't have kids, and I realize that's a big difference between our household and those studied by the researchers.

    I haven't resented my husband for earning less than I have. He's taken over the cooking for many years and enjoys it; I handle the finances and the housework; we each do our own laundry and share yard work. I have resented, however, the views of others who continually ask me when my husband is retiring (as if only he works) and assume he's always been the primary breadwinner simply due to gender.

    The secret to non-traditional marriages in terms of earning power and shared duties is 1) respecting what your spouse contributes and 2) thinking of your roles as teamwork. You're working to benefit each other, your household, your children (if you have them) and the people in your life you care about. Earning a living, running a household, raising kids isn't a scorecard.

  • Perycval Benjamin, UT
    June 5, 2019 3:36 p.m.

    When there exists unequal division of Labor my opinion is that the resolution must begin with cool heads. My experience is that when couples have conflict in marriage due to this imbalance It is because The one thinks the other should just be able to see and know what cooperation the other needs. This fallacy brings disappointment in a partner for the crime of not fulfilling expectations. burden Then the “breadwinner”.punitively withholds everything else In the marriage relationship. This together with all of the angry words expressed about the imbalance makes a resolution nearly impossible. In my own marriage my wife makes 3x what I do. She works 60 hours a week. She is married to her job or rather is having an “affair” with it. And refuses to do anything to better our relationship
    The research is just barely scratching the surface of the deeper emotional issues involved and ignores so much. I suffer in silence because my wife absolutely does not care to hear what I have to say let alone engage in some self examination on how her ability to love and encourage rather than to vociferously yell and complain is mostly what is keeping her from getting what she wants

  • Globemaster Orem, UT
    June 5, 2019 3:24 p.m.

    @ Ernest T. Bass
    "The real question is: how can any single breadwinner support a household in today's world?

    For 30 years I have been the sole breadwinner in my family. My wife has never worked outside the home, but, the work she did in the home was invaluable.

    We chose to raise our family with traditional roles and it has worked very well. We just had to adapt to whatever my income was. Fortunately, it went up most years. I even went through three periods of unemployment due to layoffs. They ranged from eight months to 1 year 10 months. We survived because we lived on less than my income and saved as much as we could knowing that unforeseen events could really cause us problems if we were not prepared.

    We live in a nice neighborhood in a nice house. My salary only once crept into six figure territory.

    My kids have all followed the same pattern. The husband is the primary breadwinner and the wife stays home and takes care of the kids/house. They all live in nice neighborhoods and nice houses.

    For years we and our kids were told you cannot survive on one income; it is possible.

    I do agree that home prices are too high now for too many and that is a shame.

  • Independent Henderson, NV
    June 5, 2019 2:54 p.m.

    The "second shift" argument is getting really old. No one is forcing women to do all of the stuff they do when they get home from work. They do it because they want to. Men usually do less of it, because it's less of a priority for them. You can't expect a man to make your priorities their priorities any more than he can expect you to make his priorities your priorities. Sometimes you have to decide if you want a job and more money, or a clean house and a hot meal at the end of the day. Hire someone to do those things for you if it means so much to you. You can't tell a grown adult man what to do any more than he can tell you what to do. Take it or leave it. You can try just not doing the housework to see if your husband will take it upon himself to clean, etc. but I wouldn't count on it. Odds are he can put up with a much bigger mess than you can.

    June 5, 2019 2:25 p.m.

    I do know one couple, neighbors for ten years, where the wife made so much more than the husband that the husband just quit working to be a stay-at-home dad to two kids. She was making ten times what he made.

    I did ask them once about it and they were very happy with their life. But, that is just one family.

    Everyone is different and I think it is best to be open and honest with each other about issues because generalizations many times aren't helpful.

  • EscherEnigma Ridgecrest, CA
    June 5, 2019 2:21 p.m.

    "I don't know if breadwinner wives are happy, but I would imagine their husbands are."
    "From article: "When women out-earn men, they report not only lower life satisfaction..." Presumably "they" refers to the women, not the men. "

    Nope. There's data on this. Men who are out-earned by their wife tend to be less happy then men who out-earn their wife. This is correlated with how invested the man is in traditional gender roles.

    That is to say... a feminist man isn't terribly likely to be upset over his wife making more. A "traditional" man who buys into the whole "men and women have different spheres and domains" bit is much more likely to be unhappy being out-earned (often describing the feeling as being emasculated).

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    June 5, 2019 1:50 p.m.

    Is the happiness penalty because they earn more than their husband or because they feel they can't quit, they have to work?

  • Rita B Herriman, UT
    June 5, 2019 12:29 p.m.

    When I stopped working full time in order to become a stay at home mom, it definitely was hard to not be compensated or recognized for my hard work anymore. Housework and baby care are often mindless, tedious, unfulfilling jobs. It is no surprise that women with well-paying jobs resent doing most of the drudgery at home.

    I am grateful that my husband is learning how to carry his equal share of the housework burden. No one wants to do it, but it needs to get done.

  • ji_ Ketchikan, AK
    June 5, 2019 12:10 p.m.

    I think Logit - got it right. Generally (not universally, but generally), a woman will be disappointed in a husband who earns less than she does. It has nothing to do with how much housework he does or doesn’t do. I hope we can overcome this general attitude in our society.

  • shamrock Salt Lake City, UT
    June 5, 2019 11:28 a.m.

    It doesn't surprise me that breadwinner wives with helpful considerate husbands are happier than wives whose husbands earn less AND expect the wife to handle the lion's share of the work at home. That kind of unfairness can easily breed resentment.

  • Ernest T. Bass Bountiful, UT
    June 5, 2019 11:23 a.m.

    The real question is: how can any single breadwinner support a household in today's world? Even small homes in bad neighborhoods are too expensive for the average income.

    Figure out a way to either pay more in salary or lower the cost of living, then we can address the question on whether women breadwinners are "happy".

  • IQ92 hi, UT
    June 5, 2019 10:53 a.m.

    From article: "When women out-earn men, they report not only lower life satisfaction..." Presumably "they" refers to the women, not the men.

    Just for accuracy sake consider: "When women out-earn men, [14% of those women] report [somewhat] lower life satisfaction...[compared to women who earn less]."

    Sorry to nitpick.

  • Autumn Meadow South Jordan, UT
    June 5, 2019 10:12 a.m.

    @I have my opinion - "All men in my circle of friends/acquaintances do it a lot and it will ever be enough to satisfy spouses."

    I'm glad you are doing some housework, and that "all" of the men you know are doing some, too. But if it's not enough to satisfy your spouses, then it probably isn't enough. In MY circle of friends, I know plenty of men who do a small amount of housework and then expect to be praised for it like they are the best husbands ever. There is a big difference between helping your spouse with child care or housework and actually being an equal partner, especially if your spouse is already working a full-time job or spending most of her waking hours with child care and housework. Women notice when we are doing the lion's share of the work around the house.

  • EscherEnigma Ridgecrest, CA
    June 5, 2019 9:17 a.m.

    "The question is, why?"
    Sexism. This isn't complicated.

  • I have my opinion Kaysville, UT
    June 5, 2019 9:16 a.m.

    I'm the (male) breadwinner in my family. I'm happy to do it because I want to serve/provide for my family. But that doesn't mean there isn't a "happiness penalty". I absolutely sacrifice to provide for them. People who think that husbands/fathers "have it all" (compared to wife/mother breadwinners) are wrong -- I sacrifice daily to serve my family. I could work more hours, travel more, earn more, play more, purchase more, etc. but I compromise to have time and energy to be with family and other service I perform. It's exhausting and I think often about retirement even though I'm years away from it.

    It's laughable that it took researchers to discover that being the primary/sole breadwinner
    results in a "happiness penalty". As the saying goes: "welcome to my world". I come home from "work" and then do 2nd shift with parenting, chores, home improvement projects, service to church/community. I fall into bed exhausted nightly.

    I also laugh at the suggestion for husbands to "do more housework". All men in my circle of friends/acquaintances do it a lot and it will ever be enough to satisfy spouses or the feminist community.

    If my wife earned more than me, I wouldn't be offended...

  • Logit ,
    June 5, 2019 8:15 a.m.

    This is amusing. The subtitle of the article begins...An analysis by the Institute for Family Studies says far more married women out-earn their husbands than in the 1960s, but more of those who do face a 'happiness penalty' than women whose husbands earn more. The question is, why? ...And then the article (and researchers?) fails to even consider the most obvious explanations.

    Hint to future researchers of this topic: There's this cool thing called "Google." Before you begin, use it to search the terms, "female hypergamy" and "marrying up."

  • imsmarterthanyou Salt Lake City, UT
    June 5, 2019 7:17 a.m.

    I doubt they are any more happy than the breadwinner husbands out there who mostly feel like a slave going to work every day. Unfortunately, very few people have a job that they actually enjoy. I love what I do, but that wasn't always the case and it took an extreme life change and a very big risk to get there.

  • cjb Bountiful, UT
    June 4, 2019 11:59 p.m.

    I don't know if breadwinner wives are happy, but I would imagine their husbands are.