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Emma Gray


Let's Stop Shaming Women For Outearning Their Male Partners

Posted: 02/08/2013 11:31 am

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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  • Sign: Boys Are Falling Behind in School

    "Whatever its origins, the problem of young men falling behind is becoming entrenched ... Now, in families where the fathers have a high school education or less, girls are much more likely than boys to finish college. If the boys do go, they are more likely to drop out. The difference is especially pronounced in families where there is not father."

  • Sign: Women Are Earning More Degrees Than Men

    "Women now earn 6-0 percent of master's degrees, about half of all the law and medical degrees, and about 44 percent of all business degrees. In 2009, for the first time women earned more PhDs than men, and the rate was starting to accelerate even in male-dominated fields such as math and computer science."

  • Sign: Hooking Up Isn't Hearbreaking For Women

    In contrast to all that's been written about the one-night stands with acquaintances common on college campuses being disadvantageous to women, Rosin found that "for most women the hook-up culture is like an island they visit mostly during their college years, and even then only when they are bored or experimenting or don't know any better. But it is not a place where they drown. The sexual culture may be more coarse these days, but young women are more than adequately equipped to handle it, because unlike in earlier ages they have more important things going on, such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own to worry about. The most patient and thorough research about the hook-up culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relationships that don't derail their careers."

  • Sign: Women Are Moving Into Formerly Male-Dominated Professions, But Men Aren't Doing The Reverse

    "Over the course of the past century," Rosin writes, "feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature -- first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions have gone the way of the pharmacist, starting out as the province of men and now filled mostly with women. Yet I'm not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men, operating under the outdated <a href="" target="_hplink">pollution rules</a>, still shy away from some careers as women begin to dominate them."

  • Sign: Jobs At Which Women Excel Are The Jobs With Staying Power

    "Sure bets for the future are still jobs that cannot be done by a computer or someone overseas," Rosin writes. "They are the jobs that require human contact, interpersonal skills, and creativity" -- jobs in fields like home health, child care, teaching, veterinary medicine -- "and these are all areas where women excel."

  • Consequence: Families Are Investing More In Their Daughters Than Their Sons

    "Reversing centuries of tradition, families are investing in their daughters. The son preference that prevailed for so much of history was not based only on sentimental attachment or habit. Families poured their resources into sons because sons were the most likely to succeed, and perhaps to help support their parents in old age. With women dominating American colleges, the still-striving middle class is putting its best bet on its daughters."

  • Consequence: A Dating Market Bad For Women

    "These days the problem in the dating market is caused not by women's eternal frailty but by their new dominance. In a world where women are better educated than men and out-earning them in their twenties, dating becomes complicated. Men are divided into what the college girls call the players (a smaller group) and the losers (a much larger group), and the women are left fighting for small spoils. The players are in high demand and hard to pin down. The losers are not all that enticing. Neither is in any hurry to settle down."

  • Consequence: Marriage Is Less Appealing Than Ever To American Women

    We know women are marrying less and later than ever, but experts disagree about why. Rosin argues, "the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are now more economically independent and thus able to set the terms for marriage -- and usually they set them too high for the men around them to reach... The whole country's future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African-Americans: The mothers pull themselves up, but the men don't follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.

  • Consequence: In Asia, Women AND Men Are Avoiding Marriage

    In a chapter that focuses mainly on the rise of women in Korea, Rosin notes that Asian women dominate in the classroom and have grown up unwilling to take on the traditional female role of the subservient homemaker, even as men continue to want wives who fit that mold. "Asia's looming problem right now is not the dangers of seduction but threat of industrial-scale sexual indifference. In a host of Asian countries, including Korea, the new woman and the same old man have looked each other over and each has deemed the other a wholly unsuitable life partner, creating a region of 'lonely hearts,' as <em>The Economist</em> recently called them."

  • Consequence: The Rise Of The "Seesaw Marriage"

    The one socioeconomic bracket in which the divorce rate is down is among the affluent. This, Rosin writes, in tandem with women's increases in education, opportunity and earnings, has made possible a new mode of time sharing in upper-class marriages: "Couples are not just chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage."

  • Sign/Consequence: Even When Women Work Full-Time, They Do More At Home -- And They're Exhausted

    Over the course of her research, Rosin writes, she didn't encounter any woman who worked full-time and had relinquished control of the domestic space to her husband. "This is true even if the woman is working two jobs. It's true even if the woman makes considerably more money than the man." As Rosin told Lisa Belkin, "Women demanded choice, and now there is an excess of choice. But they are not overwhelmingly happier. Partly that's because even women who make significantly more money than the men they are with never ceded the domestic space. And that can be exhausting. Women don't give up things. They don't give up responsibilities. They add new things. They exhaust themselves and still don't give anything up."

  • Consequence: Employers Will Offer More Flexible Work Schedules -- For Men And Women -- To Attract Top Talent

    "What were once considered exclusively women's concerns are now becoming the baits of the rising workforce. Surveys of Generation Y reveal them to have almost exactly the same workplace expectations and desires as a forty-year-old working mother: They want flexibility, the option to work remotely, to dip in and out of full time and to find their work meaningful ... Women have written the blueprint for the workplace of the future. The only question left is, will the men really adapt?"

  • Consequence: Leaders With "Feminine" Qualities Are More Valuable

    "The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminine, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. 'We never explicitly say, "Develop your feminine side," but it's clear that's what we're advocating,' says Jamie Ladge, a business professor at Northeastern University."

  • Consequence: Women Are Exhibiting More Violent Behavior

    Discussing recent cases of female chemists poisoning their husbands, Rosin reflects, "Singular and exotic though these cases may be, they raise the broader unsettling possibility that, with the turnover in modern gender roles, the escalation from competitiveness to aggression to violence that we are used to in men has started showing up in women as well ... For some people the rise in female violence must come as a great disappointment. Many of us hold out the hope that there is a utopia in our future run by women, that power does not in fact corrupt equally. But that vision ... has always had an air of condescension behind it. The most distinctive trait of women is not necessarily that they are kinder or gentler or will do anything to protect their young ... it's that they ... bend their personalities to fit in what the the times allow."

  • WATCH: Hanna Rosin On 'Today'


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