What does it mean to be outearned by your wife? I had better figure that out, because after some back-and-forth over the last 18 years—times when we were both broke, or living off of her student loans, or off my lousy salary—we have now reached what is likely a permanent income imbalance. As my colleagues here have pointed out, wordsmithing doesn't pay what it used to. And my wife now has an advanced degree and an actual profession.
We are part of the vanguard, I suppose: as Liz Mundy recently pointed out in The Atlantic , nearly 40 percent of wives outearn their husbands, and that number is growing.
So, does income disparity flip some kind of gender switch? Do I take over that section of home life that my wife used to inhabit (among her duties: sewing, light cooking, choosing Pandora channels, putting the kids to bed, giving a shit about the PTA)?
With us, so far, the answer is no.
Yes, I take the kids to school in the morning because she goes to work at first light. And sometimes I'll have to cover things solo if she's running late at the end of the day because her work schedule can be non-negotiable in ways that mine isn't.
But when Mundy wrote in her same post that wives outearning husbands "can powerfully affect relationship dynamics,",I don't see it. My wife and I still maintain the same mix of unpredictable gender assignments. I still do the majority of the cooking, but that's because I enjoy it and the men in my family have always been the cooks. My wife still puts the kids to bed, no matter her outside workload, both because she wants to, and because I usually have some sports that need watching.
A useful parallel for me is driving. My wife is a better driver than I. She's from LA; she's got smog and road rage in her DNA. I'm from Key West, a small island where traffic still stops for conversations between drivers and on the weekends many of us are too drunk to even ride bicycles. But when my wife and I are together, in big cities and small, I like to drive, and she likes to have me drive. Men have been driving their wives around since long before Apollonia Corleone got blown up, and that's exactly what my wife and I do.
Gender is not a house of cards that collapses when you take away one element. I am still hotheaded, broad-shouldered, sports-addicted, and foolishly optimistic about home improvement projects. Those things and the other dozen typically male characteristics I have won't change just because my wife makes more than I.
You know how some people like to talk about a post-racial society but it's complete bullshit because no matter who is president, race still matters in this country? Well, it's equally fallacious to think that changing income structure alone will change the power balance of the sexes, in the home or outside the home. We are not post-gender, no matter what the economic trends are. Women who earn more than their husbands still earn less than their colleagues. They still have their basic reproductive rights threatened constantly. They still are underrepresented in every level of leadership.
And on a more personal level, they still have to solve one of the oldest and most intractable problems of all: how to share their daily lives with men. That's because, no matter what my wife says, I am still the man of the house, for better or worse, for richer or poorer.