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How a husband's attitude can impact a women's career

I've come across an alarming research paper that really puts it in perspective for me the real impact of not having this conversation about equality in our homes. The researchers were able to measure the impact that our gender imbalance at home is having over women's career.

In short, their findings show that when the women makes more than their husbands she is:

  • Less likely to marry (in case she isn't yet)

  • Less likely to stay married

  • More likely to drop out of the workforce or slow down her career

  • More likely to do most of the house chores

The only pertinent reaction to this is: holly $#@%*!!

This is extremely worrisome and I can't believe we aren't talking more about it. These findings show a trend that if kept quiet will have lasting effects over years of progress towards a gender balanced society.

Let's break down their findings:

The research is called GENDER IDENTITY AND RELATIVE INCOME WITHIN HOUSEHOLDS written by Marianne Bertrand, Jessica Pan and Emir Kamenica in May 2013. (you'll find the full paper here)


The paper starts by stating some of the reasons that contributed to women's progress over the past half century that brought substantial labor market gains.

Despite these gains female labor force seem to have plateaued since the mid 1990's.

"This halted progress has led researchers to consider less traditional (within economics at least) factors that might influence the gender gap in labor market outcomes (Bertrand 2010). One explanation that has gained popularity over the last decade is that slow-moving identity norms shape behavior. [...]. Akerlof and Kranton (2000) define identity as one’s sense of belonging to a social category, coupled with a view about how people who belong to that category should behave. They propose that identity influences economic outcomes because deviating from the prescribed behavior is inherently costly." (pg.2)

When she makes more

Here is a what a diagram of distribution of relative income in a household SHOULD look like (if both partners valued a high earning partner)

This what data from the American Community Survey from 2010 actually looks like:

See the difference?

The sharp drop at 0.5 (the moment where the wife starts to make more then the husband) it is not explained by simple economics but rather by behavioral economics where gender roles play a part in marriage formation. Marriage rates take a big hit right at the point when the wife outearns their partner.

"Under standard preferences, we assume that both men and women always prefer a partner with a higher income." but what the data shows is that

men values women’s income as long as it does not exceed his own.
Once a woman earns more than a man, her income becomes a liability rather than an asset." (Pg.08)

High potential women have a hard time getting married in the first place

"We next turn from the analysis of who marries whom to the analysis of whether people get married at all. Using 1970 to 2010 data from the US Census Bureau, we show that, within a marriage market, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, the marriage rate declines. [...]

This result suggests a potential link between two important social developments over the last several decades: the relative increase in women’s income (as discussed above) and the decline in marriage rates. Indeed, marriage rates declined substantially in the US, from about 81 percent in 1970 to 51 percent in 2010 for young adults aged 25 to 39.3 Our estimates imply that the aversion to the situation where the wife earns more than the husband can explain 23 percent of this decline."

This part needs no explanation. The effect is dramatic.

And finally...

Women’s labor supply and relative income

"The previous sections establish that couples are less likely to form if the wife’s income would exceed the husband’s. When such couples do form, we might expect gender identity to distort labor market outcomes. A wife whose income would exceed her husband’s may choose to stay at home so as to be less threatening. Or, she may distort her labor supply in other ways – e.g., work fewer hours or take a job that is less demanding and pays less. " (pg. 18)

"Having the wife leave the labor force is a very costly way to restore traditional gender roles. It would be less costly for the wife to simply reduce her earnings to a level that does not threaten the husband’s status as the primary breadwinner." (pg.21)


After reading the disturbing findings of this paper I cannot stop from wondering why aren't these trends widely discussed and publicly analyzed. Why aren't we talking about it?

Since I haven't found a good research paper to answer that I can only draw from my own experience talking about this issue with couples over the past year as we research for The New Husband documentary: The topic is a taboo. We are way more comfortable shouting in the streets about inequality at our workplace then we are shouting about our own homes. But we all know secretly the importance of this discussion and feels like we are all waiting for someone to start shouting.

I hope The New Husband will.

Ps. If you like this article, or this blog, your public support can be extremely helpful in making sure our project continues. So be sure to share it and spread the word on your social media! #letsstartthisconversation

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