Just a few decades ago, there was little doubt about whether men or women benefited more financially from marriage. Though trends were shifting, husbands still typically served as the breadwinner while wives tended the home and children. For those women who worked outside the home, their income was considerably less than their male counterparts — even when holding down equivalent jobs.
It was clear, for a long time, that women had the most to gain economically by saying “I do.” My, how our society has changed and evolved!
Recent findings by the Pew Research Center revealed that men now often benefit financially as much or more than women. Compared with forty years ago, a much larger share of women today are married to men with less education and lower incomes. Among the findings:
• Women’s earnings grew 44 percent between 1970 and 2007, compared with 6 percent for men.
• More women than men today have college degrees.
• Only 4 percent of husbands had wives who earned more than they did in 1970, compared with 22 percent in 2007.
The authors of the report, Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn, commented: “From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage. In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men.”1
Obviously, income is only one among many issues that need to be weighed when considering marriage — but it is an extremely important issue. That’s because study after study has shown conflict over money is the leading cause of divorce in our country.
The issue is not necessarily about how much wealth a person brings into a relationship — or the income level he or she aspires to. The issue is agreeing on the essential aspects of money management and financial ambitions. Couples who are considering making a permanent commitment should carefully evaluate these questions:
Are your long-term financial goals in harmony? Ask yourselves how you envision your standard of living, income, and asset accumulation for ten years, and twenty years, into the future.
Are both partners willing to pull their weight? Many couples are just fine with one person earning more — even substantially more — than the other, whether that be the man or woman. But in every relationship, each individual wants to know that he or she is not getting “gypped.” They want to know that the other person is working hard and making sacrifices for the common good.
Do both individuals have goals they are working towards? Whether these include career advancement, further education, or personal development, each partner should have clearly defined objectives and a plan to attain them.
Do you have similar views about debt, spending and saving? If one person is a saver and the other is a spender, conflict is inevitable. If one person prefers a simple lifestyle with a modest income and the other wants affluence along with many material comforts, tension is sure to arise.
If you’re ready for a successful long-term relationship, make sure you find someone you consider to be an asset and not a liability — economically and otherwise.
1. To view the full study entitled “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives,” go to http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1466/economics-marriage-rise-of-wives.