By Tim Grant
As Farnoosh Torabi researched and wrote her latest book, “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women,” she was on a mission to understand how to navigate the financial and psychological obstacles in her own marriage.
“I found there were some specific challenges as a result of being a female head of household,” Ms. Torabi said. “I needed a book with advice for my own marriage in terms of how to negotiate the different roles in our relationship, such as managing money and how to manage a family once we have children.”
Ms. Torabi, 34, who is expecting her first child in June, said because she earns more than her husband, she doesn’t have the option of taking a break from her work as a personal finance expert, speaker and television personality when their child is born.
The author of two previous books, “You’re So Money: Live Rich Even When You’re Not” and “Psych Yourself Rich,” has found a niche in delivering practical financial and lifestyle advice to young people. In 2009, she became the host of Soapnet’s reality series “Bank of Mom and Dad.”
While her reasons for writing her latest book were personal, a growing number of women in the U.S. have broken out of traditional gender roles in terms of out-earning men in their households.
The Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center found the number of breadwinning wives today is four times greater than it was in the 1960s, climbing from 6 percent to 24 percent of marriages.
Prudential Insurance also reported in a 2013 research study, “Financial Experience and Behaviors Among Women,” that about 53 percent of U.S. women are primary breadwinners in their households.
Breadwinning women, in general, make up two distinct groups, Ms. Torabi said. The first is single mothers, who are likely to be young, less educated, either African-American or Latina, and with a median household income of $23,000. The second group consists of married women who out-earn their husbands. They are most likely white, college educated with a median family income of $80,000.
“In the upper echelons of this second group are the affluent married couples, a little over one-third of whom discuss their finances more than they do their sex life,” Ms. Torabi wrote. She interviewed 25 different couples for the book and, with the help of a clinical psychologist, surveyed more than 1,000 women who earn more than their spouse or romantic partners.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, a personal finance author and founder of AskTheMoneyCoach.com, a free financial advice website, said she can speak to the issue both personally and professionally. She supported her now former husband financially for 13 years while he pursued a doctorate.
“It definitely is true that more women than ever before are out-earning their husbands and male partners,” she said, adding that a number of factors have contributed to the shift.
“Men and women were affected by the Great Recession, but men lost more financial ground with layoffs, pay cuts and hours being slashed, which all meant diminished income,” Ms.
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Khalfani-Cox said. “Then there’s an education disparity where a lot more women are getting degrees or going back to school to get degrees for more earning power.”
The role reversal taking place in households across America brings its own challenges, Ms. Torabi said.
“There is a point in life where you can feel stuck,” she said. “If you are the breadwinner and supporting the family and your check is very important and you have a child and you want to be at the forefront of all those experiences as a mom, you can’t slow down.
“Society also still expects men to support their family financially. The majority of Americans still believe it’s a man’s duty to provide for his family. There is some pressure from the outside world to live a certain way or you are inadequate. So, that psychologically impacts how you go about designing your life and ultimately measure your happiness.”
Ms. Torabi says when a woman makes more than her male partner, the odds are stacked against her in many ways.
She points to a 2010 Cornell University study in which researcher Christin Munsch found men who made less money than their female partners were more likely to be unfaithful. The cheating, she concluded, had less to do with money and more to do with their failure to assume the traditional role of breadwinner.
The gay couples that Ms. Torabi talked to seemed to have figured things out better than most heterosexual couples when it comes to division of labor around the house.
“When it comes to managing household responsibilities like cooking and cleaning, you can’t be insistent on deciding who does what based on gender roles,” she said. “We can learn from gay couples because when they decide on who does household chores, they do it on strengths and weaknesses or the desire to do something because they enjoy it.”