Almost as popular as the confusing yet oft-repeated “marry someone who loves you more than you love him” advice that is stuffed down single women’s throats is the newer piece of advice: “Marry someone who makes more money than you”.
I’ve read this a lot lately on the Internet and in glossy magazines geared toward women. Article after article suggests women who make more than their husbands are doomed to an unhappy marriage and may as well begin drawing up the divorce papers.
When I read these stories, I can’t help but think: Is that where we’re at now?
It may not be intentional, but it seems that this advice aims to stoke fears in the hearts of ambitious, financially successful women. The underlying message is a baseless warning that “Happily Ever After” is only for those whose paychecks are noticeably smaller than their husband’s.
I was raised in a two-parent household where my father made so much more money than my mother that her income was deemed irrelevant. She stayed at home to homeschool my sister and I while my father worked 50-plus hours a week providing financially for our family. It was very Leave It to Beaver…until it wasn’t and, eventually, my parents divorced.
Considering the divorce rate, I highly doubt that my parents’ marriage was the only union that didn’t survive despite the man being the breadwinner. We know that there are several factors that can contribute to the success or failure of a marriage, so why are we pretending a woman making less money than her husband is the key to a fairytale ending?
Finances are important, but you’ve got to either be really selfish or without a single clue when it comes to marriage to believe that it’s all about who makes the most money. Marriage is a partnership, not a competition. Even a couple who maintains separate accounts after tying the knot would admit it’s not her money and his money, it’s their money anyway. In fact, as soon as a couple starts thinking in terms of “my money”, they’re going to have problems no matter who is contributing the most.
What makes this advice to seek out a higher-earning man the most confusing is the fact that making more money and having more money are two different things. A man who is raking in $80,000 a year yet is saddled by twice that amount in student loans certainly has less money than a woman who is pulling in $30,000 a year and is debt free. Just because a man is making more money than his woman doesn’t mean he has more money than she does. So what’s more important in that instance? Making money or having it?
Further, there is making more money than your spouse and there is making way more money than him. In a recent Atlantic Magazine article titled “The Weaker Sex” the author talks about her friend who brings in $670,000 per year at her high-powered non-profit and is married to a writer who decided to stay home for a few years upon the birth of their twins. The author talks about this couple’s problems, chalking it up to the income disparity yet all I can think about is what a mismatch they are and probably were before they got married. What does a woman whose character, education, upbringing and personal values led to her making nearly one million dollars a year at a non-profit have in common with a man who is willing to stay home to take care of children? Their problems aren’t the result of the fact that the woman out-earns her husband, she’s unhappy because she married someone who is clearly so different than herself and whom she obviously does not respect.
Marrying someone who makes more money is great if that’s important to you, but I’d think it’s even more important to marry someone who thinks about money the way you do. Instead of looking at someone’s pay stub to determine if he is eligible for your lifetime commitment, it’s better to look at those things about him that won’t change should his company fire him tomorrow.
For example, a type-A workaholic may enjoy dating a man with a laissez-faire attitude toward finances because he’s spontaneous and fun, but after you’re married, that carefree approach looks a lot less like fun and a lot more like spendthrift and needlessly blowing money. On the flipside, dating a man who is serious about putting away the bulk of his lucrative paycheck can lead you to believe you’ll get a piece of his deep dish pie after marriage only to realize later on that he doesn’t believe sharing is caring. Clearly, the way you think about money is more important to the success of your relationship than the money itself.
Though people mean well when they advise you to marry up financially, deciding to marry someone because of something as prone to change as income is basing a lifetime decision on a temporary circumstance. It’s absolutely important to know what financial situation you’re marrying into, but also remember that fortunes can change in an instant for better or worse.
While you’re comparing paystubs, you may want to take other notes as well. Is he selfish? Is he secretive about his money? Is he intent on keeping up with appearances? Does he have money put away for the future? Does he pay attention to his finances? Are you going to have to hide purchases from him? Will he hide purchases from you? Is he mired in debt? Is he on a career path? Is he committed to his job? Does he respect your work? How does he feel about unemployment (his or yours)? Do you have similar financial goals?
The answers to these questions and more are all things that are way more important to know than simply: Does he make more money than you?
What do you think? Would you marry someone who makes less money than you do?