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Here’s What Research Says About Wives Who Make More Than Husbands

There are still quite a few damaging gender exceptions lingering within the modern marriage.

Thomas Hawk Flickr

Despite the fact that a greater share of women are now going to work, a new study by the U.S. Census Bureau has found that changes to the evolving employment playing field are still a point of insecurity for many. The study compared what respondents told census surveyors about their earnings to what their employers actually reported to the IRS. It found that when women earn more than their husbands or male counterparts, both sides are prone to lying about it.

The study looked at people in heterosexual marriages and found that on average women report their income as around one-and-a-half percent under what it actually is. Men, on the other hand, tended to overstate their earnings by almost three percent. Marta Murray-Close and Misty L. Heggeness concluded that many people in heterosexual marriages find it more desirable for men to earn more, even when they don’t. The pair calls this phenomenon “manning up and womaning down.”

“It raises rather metaphysical questions for all social scientists: What happens when the phenomenon you’re studying affects the data you use to study it?” economist Justin Wolfers told the New York Times.

While it’s not 100 percent conclusive, the study exposes the staying power of certain social norms that relate to gender. Interestingly, in about 25 percent of marriages, the woman earns more than the man, but, rather unsurprisingly, the insecurity is stemming primarily from the husband’s side. Marriage counselors have found that making less is more likely to make men feel insecure and that’s only exacerbated by the fact that women might lose respect for them in light of making more than they do. Despite the changing terrain, more than 70 percent of people still say that to be a good husband a man must be able to provide for his family.  

The study found that when women earn more than men, they tend to earn at least double what women who don’t out-earn their husbands do. They’re also way more likely to be educated as well as black. Beyond that, the same percentage of women are earning more than their husbands irrespective of their geographical location. Still, it’s not a huge secret that this particular subject is a sore point for most married couples. A recent survey from Harvard found that the main reason women will divorce their husbands is that he isn’t employed. Still, the study did find that income had less to do with being divorced than the literal fact of whether they had a job or not.