personal finance

Women Who Bring Home the Bacon Are STILL the Ones Frying It Up in a Pan

Sad but true: Female breadwinners are often overburdened at home. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are tips (from a divorce expert who’s seen it all) on how to regain some balance at home.

Breadwinning women can’t get a break. They not only struggle for parity at work, but new studies show that they also do not have gender equality at home.

According to the Journal of Family Issues, breadwinning women spend a disproportionately higher number of hours on household tasks and child care. Surprisingly, the category of men who do the least amount at home are those who have the most free time – those who are unemployed. Breadwinning women often end up responsible for the majority of housework, even when their husband does not have a job!  The greater the income gap, the less men do. In other words, the more the wife earns, the greater the penalty at home.

Ouch! No wonder why so many high-earning women feel frustrated and resentful. At a time when more women are overwhelmed and burned out, perhaps it is time for husbands to step up and take on more responsibilities on the home front.

Marriages with female breadwinners are 50% more likely to end in divorce, according to a recent University of Chicago study. I am not surprised. I am seeing more and more breadwinning women reach out for financial advice because they are contemplating divorce.

I recently assumed the role of the top earner in my own family. However, nothing has changed at home. My husband and I still have the same roles, and I do just as much caretaking, appointment making and as many domestic tasks as I did before. There is no shift just because my income is now substantially higher than his and I work longer hours.

Turns out that my family situation is not so different from millions of women in the United States. New data from the American Community Survey found that among married, heterosexual couples in the U.S., a quarter of wives, or about 15 million, are the primary breadwinners in their family. Consider that in 1960, that number was only 6%.  And yet, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, a majority of women are still doing the lion’s share of the household tasks.

Women earning more than men is a growing trend fueled by more women graduating college and also choosing high-earning, historically male-dominated careers in industries such as technology, finance and science.

As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst advising dozens of breadwinning women through their divorces, I see this inequity as one of the biggest causes of failed marriages. I experience these challenges in my own marriage, as well: Income imbalances affect relationships. Running up against this hurdle, myself, I can offer some key advice for other breadwinning women to make sure that their marriages stay strong while keeping burnout at bay.

Reimagine the Cinderella Fairy Tale

Little girls grow up dreaming of being whisked off their feet and taken care of by a knight in shining armor. As I grew up, I tried to consciously reimagine this fairy tale and made the knight in shining armor me. I painted a picture starring myself as a strong, smart and financially independent woman living a beautiful castle that I purchased with a 30% down payment and low interest rate. My story also included a husband who was successful, with his own interests and equal contributions to our marriage. I eventually did meet this man and married him — however he hates horses, so I had to nix the part about riding ponies to my castle.

Open Communication Is Key

Both partners should be open and honest about their feelings. If one person is becoming overwhelmed, resentment and headwinds caused by these feelings run the risk of derailing your partnership. According to Beatty Cohan, psychotherapist, sex therapist and author, “Professing one’s love, respect, admiration and appreciation are sentiments that we all want to hear.  However, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do — and for women who are the breadwinners in the family and who feel that their partners are not doing their fair share of household tasks, it’s important to discuss this issue honestly and directly.”

At times, in my household I feel that we over-communicate and that I am asking too much. However, letting my needs be known along with supporting his means that we can overcome the bumps in the road that come with any marriage, not to mention one that flies in the face of societal norms. Cohan continues, “Avoiding having ‘the talk’ will not only breed anger and resentment but will absolutely keep this frustrating and disappointing dynamic going.  The bottom line is that we get what we negotiate whether we’re buying a house or dividing household or parenting responsibilities.”

Get Help

I was, at first, extremely resistant to hiring a cleaner or anyone else to help me with domestic duties. But when I became so angry at my husband for not doing more that we started fighting over trivial matters, I realized that my expectations were unrealistic, and I needed to get myself more support.  It turns out that I am just as good a mom even though I am not the person doing every load of laundry or cleaning every dirty dish. In fact, with the extra help I have more time to spend with my kids and my husband! I can even sneak in a workout most days of the week — even if it has to be before the sun rises.

Get on the Same Financial Page

Lisa Zeiderman, a divorce attorney and managing partner for Miller Zeiderman LLP, often represents the breadwinner female spouse and shares that one of the top reasons couples get divorced is because of money disagreements. According to Zeiderman, “Arguments are even more likely in non-traditional marriages where the role of the main provider is reversed. In these marriages, it is even more important that the couple be on the same page when it comes to money.” I believe that if you have a level playing field around the money, you will be on your way to happily ever after. After advising hundreds of divorcing clients, I can say that one of the issues I see in nearly every divorce is money conflicts that start to expose the cracks in their marriage, which ultimately leads to divorce.

Paul Stagias, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst with Francis Financial, recommends that couples work with a fee-only, fiduciary adviser to put a financial plan in place to map out their financial future, achieving the lifestyle and goals that they each have. He tells clients to work together toward these goals and celebrate progress and successes. “The most important financial decision couples can make is what financial adviser they choose — and not all financial advisers are alike. Fiduciary advisers are obligated by law to act in your interest as they manage your assets and advise you on your money situation. Rather than operating out of self-interest (such as recommending insurance policies or investments in pursuit of fees and commissions), a fiduciary adviser is obligated to make recommendations that benefit only you.” Stagias continues, “Your financial roadmap should be updated each year, confirming that you are on financial track.”

About the Author

Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA®, CES™

President & CEO, Francis Financial Inc.

Stacy is a nationally recognized financial expert and the President and CEO of Francis Financial Inc., which she founded 15 years ago. She is a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) who provides advice to women going through transitions, such as divorce, widowhood and sudden wealth. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies™, a nonprofit that has provided free personal finance education and resources to over 15,000 women.

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