If a woman wants a happy marriage, she should earn less than her husband.
In a 2015 paper, economists from Chicago’s Booth School and the National University of Singapore conclude that women who generate more than half their household’s income are more likely to have marital difficulties than their less affluent “sisters.”
Some Mating History
To see the impact of breadwinner women, I like to begin with Nobel Laureate Gary Becker (1930-2014) telling us that the mid-twentieth century family is a production unit. Rather like the division of labor in a factory, household output depended on the husband earning the income and the wife running the home.
All changed during the 1970s with the contraceptive pill. Enabling women to decide when they would have children, the pill empowered them to enter professions that required more education, more time, and paid more. Consequently, a new cohort of females became a different kind of wife. No longer a homemaker, wives became companions.
The result? Instead of production complementarities, married couples developed consumption complementarities.
Gender Identity Norms
But gender identity norms appear to have complicated the transition. Dating back to the Becker analysis, the traditional roles that men and women played can linger and clash with the realities of married life.
For many of the women who earn more than half their household’s income, the housework and childcare they do is also disproportionate. As a result, some of these women respond by leaving the labor force while others remain, Whether they stay or go though, the result is less marital satisfaction and more divorce.
Our Bottom Line: Gender Identity Norms
When labor markets and marriage markets interact, gender identity norms can be costly.