There’s a stereotype of a man whose wife makes more money than he does, and so he feels emasculated. He must reach into his pants every few minutes and feel the cool of his testicles against his hand just to assure himself that they are still there. At the gym, the other men whip him with towels and tell him not to forget his purse on the way out.
Research does support the idea that men’s identities and confidence suffer when they aren’t the breadwinners in heterosexual marriages. They feel worse about themselves and are more likely to cheat on their wives. In her book When She Makes More, journalist Farnoosh Torabi cautioned career-oriented wives that “making a relationship work when there’s an unusual income disparity takes a lot more effort than relationships with no or a traditional income disparity.”
But the new reality may be the opposite.
“A lot of the gendered expectations in marriage are left over from a different era,” Christin Munsch, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explained to me. “We expect women to be primarily responsible for child care. When men ‘help out’ they get brownie points.”
Expectations that women take primary responsibility for housework and childcare—while men make most of the money—are relics of the breadwinner-homemaker model that, to Munsch, “isn’t really relevant to today's couples.” In most marriages now, both people have jobs. And in this new paradigm, these leftover expectations aren't really serving couples well.