Female Breadwinners Are On The Rise: Have Your Relationships Been Affected?

Over the past 37 years, the woman’s role in a family has changed enormously. According to a Pew Research Center report released today, more men in 2007 than 1970 are married to women who are more educated and make more money than they do themselves. A lot of things are at play here, creating this trend of smarty-pants female breadwinners, one of which is that in the 30 to 34 age group, more U.S.-born women than men have college degrees. Along with more of us going to college, we’re also making more money than we were 40 years ago. In 2007, median earnings of full-time female workers were 71 percent of what comparable men made, compared with 52 percent in 1970.

And while the economic downturn has been a total bummer for all of us, it actually hasn’t been as terrible for women. Because more “male” industries have been affected, women have actually seen gains: In December 2009, we constituted 47.4 percent of the employed. Among couples that had two breadwinners until recently, it’s likely that the man is now out of work and the woman is the primary breadwinner. It seems like these shifts have been positive for women, but anecdotal evidence shows that society hasn’t kept pace with the changes. In a New York Times article, Beagy Zielinski, a 28-year-old stylist, shared that she recently broke up with her working-class boyfriend who was insecure about her success. And Dr. Rajalla Prewitt, a 38-year-old psychiatrist, said that she and her successful female friends can’t find any men who fit into their lives. “We’re having difficulty finding someone where there’s a meeting of the minds, where we can have the same goals and values, she said. “Particularly, African-American men who are educated want a traditional home where they are the breadwinner.”

Unfortunately, another recent study showed that while women have become more important to a household in terms of earnings, we’re still doing more than our share of work at home. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ time-use surveys show that women still spend more of their days taking care of chores, household duties, and child care than men.

As author Elizabeth Gilbert said, when she spoke with us recently, “We tend to forget and we should not forget that we are still in the very, very beginning phases of an unprecedented social science experiment that has only recently come to human history, which is what happens if you give women any kind of autonomy whatsoever?” Women haven’t been out in the workforce all that long, which we don’t always remember, and these shifts seem even more significant when consider that. However, it doesn’t make our lives any easier.

Have any of your relationships been affected by your success or earning power? [Pew Research Center, NY Times, Washington Post, NY Post]