‘Breadwinner Wives’ Misses the Mark

My name is Aaron Gouveia, and my wife makes more money than I do.

Wait. This isn’t a support group for losers? Are you sure? Because after reading Hanna Rosin’s Slate column about “breadwinner wives,” I just assumed it was my lot in life to huddle with the growing number of financially castrated husbands whose pitiful paychecks are causing marital strife.

Rosin started off with an interesting topic, which she approached evenhandedly, citing census data and Pew Research Center surveys. And as a member of the 22 percent of American marriages in which husbands make less than their wives, I was intrigued to learn more.

Until Rosin’s article took a very wrong turn and inexplicably careened off a cliff.

Some couples seem to ease into the dynamic naturally—the woman is a born workaholic and the man lives at a slower pace, picking up contract work, savoring his afternoon coffee. One mother at our preschool can’t stop bragging about her stay-at-home husband—although I am still startled by the sight of him hanging around the school, helping the teachers make handprint T-shirts.

It’s the word “startled” that really threw me. I re-read it several times to see if I was just being oversensitive, but each time I went back it leaped out even more. Quite frankly, its use here is baffling: I can’t fathom any scenario in which a father taking a positive and active role in his kids’ lives could be construed as a bad thing, not to mention alarming or frightening.

Rosin goes on to talk about the women she knows in her life who are currently dealing with this issue.

One woman I know never seems to run out of ways to call her husband, who works as a part-time airline mechanic, a loser. Another complains about the small things: Why does he spend all her money on dress socks if he hasn’t had a job interview in over a year and why does he have to subscribe to every damned sports channel and why will he never clean up after himself? In a couple of cases I know of, the disparity never felt natural and the couple got divorced.

Let’s keep the recession in mind. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, seven out of 10 workers who lost their jobs are men. So wouldn’t it stand to reason this guy should consider himself damn lucky to have any job at all? Not to mention the man is an airline mechanic, which is a highly trained and specialized field. It hardly sounds “lazy.”

But even more confounding is why Rosin even bothered to include the husband who allegedly doesn’t know how to clean up after himself. Isn’t this a story about income disparity? What does his level of cleanliness have to do with this? Rosin’s last comment that these people are getting divorced really strikes me as no surprise—I wouldn’t want to be married to someone constantly calling me a loser either. But that has more to do with civility and respect, and less about the marital wage gap.

Truthfully I was disappointed to see this coming from the intelligent and forward-thinking folks at Slate’s DoubleX blog. Suppose I had written, “One father at our preschool can’t stop bragging about his working wife—although I am still startled by the sight of her hanging around the office, helping to broker multi-million-dollar business deals.” I have to believe I would’ve been taken to task. And rightfully so.

I’ll admit, I had issues with the fact that my wife out-earned me at one point by approximately $40,000 a year. But she works in finance and my heart and soul is in print journalism, a notoriously low-paying field. And after a while, she showed me that what I lack in the paycheck department I make up for in other areas. I’m the communicator, the social director, and the primary caretaker of our son. I still work full-time, but I cook most of the meals and perform the majority of chores—because those things are just as important as a padded wallet, if not more so.

In the end I realized it doesn’t matter if I make less money than she does. And while the issue caused some arguments, it was never something that was going to threaten our marriage. If two people break up because of something so arbitrary, I’d argue that their relationship had far more problems than an income disparity.

But I guess the important thing is that I don’t show up at my son’s school. I wouldn’t want to startle anyone.

—Photo via SoFeminine.co.uk

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About Aaron Gouveia

Aaron is husband to a woman far too beautiful to have married him, and father of two sons far too perfect to be his. After nearly a decade as a Boston-area journalist, he decided to actually get paid and became a content manager. When he's not griping about his beloved Boston sports teams, he's detailing life as a dad at The Daddy Files. You can follow him on Twitter (@DaddyFiles) and Facebook.

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