Women Who Earn More Than Their Part­ners

Men have tra­di­tion­ally been con­sid­ered the main earn­ers of the house­hold. But over the past few decades, more and more women have been earn­ing more than their part­ners. How has this af­fected re­la­tion­ship dy­nam­ics?

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In Sin­ga­pore, stereo­types of the as­sumed roles of men (bread­win­ner, provider, head of the house­hold) and women (care­giver, home­maker, house­wife) still linger. How­ever, it’s no longer rare for women to out-earn their hus­bands or boyfriends. We speak to three women about how their higher in­come af­fects their re­la­tion­ships.

“Some­times, the real rea­son is not re­ally about the in­come, but other fac­tors such as au­thor­ity, power or con­trol.”

Keep­ing it open and hon­est

Vanessa, 30, is in a long dis­tance re­la­tion­ship with Srđan, 33, from Croa­tia. She’s a deputy ed­i­tor of a travel mag­a­zine and, with the ex­change rates, has an in­come three to four times higher than that of her part­ner’s, who works as a ho­tel re­cep­tion man­ager.

“I think we have a good dy­namic where we can talk openly about any­thing – even if it feels un­com­fort­able in the mo­ment,” says Vanessa. “Money con­tin­ues to be a touchy topic, but I think we are try­ing to re­ject that no­tion by talk­ing about it as hon­estly as pos­si­ble,” she adds.

Srđan agrees. “There is an in­doc­tri­nated obli­ga­tion amongst Croa­t­ian men to be providers,” he says. “The dat­ing cul­ture in Croa­tia re­flects this as well, as men who are not fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent and of ‘in­fe­rior’ fi­nan­cial means will be con­sid­ered less at­trac­tive.”

To counter these mind­sets, he and Vanessa keep an open di­a­logue about the set­backs of their cul­tures. “We’re over­com­ing these gen­der doc­trines of our re­spec­tive so­ci­eties,” he says. “We fight it by nur­tur­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tion style that is com­pletely free of any shame or hold­ing back.”

“[We] talk ex­haus­tively about ev­ery­thing,” Vanessa adds, stress­ing the im­por­tance of be­ing will­ing to see things from the other per­son’s point of view, and be­ing open to ad­mit­ting when a mis­step has been made, or an opin­ion has been bi­ased.

Split­ting the bill

Siti Jef­frey, 27, and her part­ner Ken­neth Chong, 31, work in the same in­dus­try. The in­come gap is less than a thou­sand and, at present, has not pre­sented sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul­ties. With the ex­cep­tion of their up­com­ing wed­ding and leas­ing of a HDB flat, most pur­chases are han­dled in­de­pen­dently.

“Our in­vest­ments are com­pletely sep­a­rate,” says Siti. “We don’t stand to gain from each other fi­nan­cially.” Keep­ing things open and prag­matic, Siti says that while she’d be will­ing to sup­port her fu­ture hus­band if sit­u­a­tions change, she “would def­i­nitely set terms and con­di­tions that would not jeop­ar­dise [her] own fi­nan­cial con­di­tion.” On dates, the bills are usu­ally split ac­cord­ing to what the in­di­vid­ual has or­dered, with nei­ther feel­ing pres­sure to give or ask for more.

“We man­age our own fi­nances in­di­vid­u­ally, as though we’re friends,” says Ken­neth. “[And] you don’t start a joint ac­count even with very close friends.”

In this to­gether

For Shila Naidu, 30, who works at a non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, the sum of both salaries mat­ters more than who earns more, es­pe­cially given Sin­ga­pore’s high cost of liv­ing. “Money is but one part of a re­la­tion­ship; fix­at­ing on it is un­healthy and de­mor­al­is­ing,” says Shila, who cur­rently earns slightly more than her hus­band, a sound en­gi­neer.

“I think I felt a lot more ob­li­gated to spoil him early in our mar­riage be­cause I earned sig­nif­i­cantly more than him [then],” Shila says. “[Now] we live within our means and have ad­justed our life­styles

ac­cord­ingly. Strangely, the older we get, the less we seem to want,” she adds.

Vi­o­let Lim, CEO & co-founder of Lunch Ac­tu­ally Group, says that while men are still largely ex­pected to be the bread­win­ner of the fam­ily, most cou­ples to­day are break­ing that stereo­type.

Still, she does en­counter men who specif­i­cally seek part­ners who make less than them. In such cases, Vi­o­let says it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand the real mo­tive. “Some­times, the real rea­son is not re­ally about the in­come, but other fac­tors such as au­thor­ity, power or con­trol,” she says.

Over­com­ing ob­sta­cles

While Vanessa and Srđan work through the dis­tance and their sig­nif­i­cant pay gap, they both look for­ward to greater flex­i­bil­ity within the re­la­tion­ship and the joys it will bring. “Both of us have big dreams of trav­el­ing the world to­gether, and for that, we’ll need lots of money!” Vanessa says. At the mo­ment, she has a long-term sav­ings plan lined up for re­tire­ment, and con­sis­tently sets aside about 15 per­cent of her salary each month for fu­ture trav­els.

For now, she’s glad to have Srđan’s sup­port. “I feel noth­ing but pride for her suc­cess, and I al­ways make it a point to be a con­struc­tive and help­ful force in her life, job in­cluded,” he says. “I have ab­so­lutely no is­sue with her be­ing a higher earner.”

It’s the same with Shila and Jef­frey. “I think ev­ery­one, no mat­ter how much they earn, wishes for more,” says Shila. “But apart from this gen­eral de­sire, [my hus­band] has never ex­pressed dis­com­fort that I earn more.”

At the end of the day, Siti says that shared values are the foun­da­tion of a strong re­la­tion­ship. “We’re both in­de­pen­dent peo­ple who have a very prac­ti­cal view and are gen­er­ally pru­dent when it comes to money, so it’s not a source of stress,” she says.

A word of ad­vice

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is also key to avoid­ing money is­sues that can cause a strain on the re­la­tion­ship. “Talk and talk and talk. If it takes you to tears, so be it, tears will dry but mu­tual clar­ity stays, and it’s worth it,” says Srđan.

Vanessa agrees, adding that while talk­ing about money and fi­nan­cial mat­ters may get tir­ing and stress­ful, the ben­e­fits of openly talk­ing things out are ul­ti­mately re­ward­ing. “I feel like we are build­ing a strong foun­da­tion of mu­tual trust and un­der­stand­ing with these con­ver­sa­tions, brick by brick,” she says.

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