While wage parity between men and women remains a work in progress in the U.S., the percentage of female breadwinners (defined as the primary or sole earner of income in a household) has steadily risen in recent years. In fact, it jumped from 37 percent in 2000 to 49 percent in 2018.
Does this mean we’re moving toward more workforce equality as a whole? Not quite. This changing trend is in part due to the growing number of single-mom families and the decrease in married couples heading households.
And as these dynamics shift, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot more to breadwinning than simply earning more money. Here are five unexpected social consequences that come with being your household’s breadwinner.
In spite of the shift in breadwinning statistics, traditional gender expectations that men serve as their household’s primary earner by default still prevail. And chances are, if you happen to be a female breadwinner, you’ll face these gender norms on a regular basis. That might be during small talk with a neighbor or colleague, hearing casual remarks from friends and family, or even simply through indirect forms of social pressure.
For instance, former hedge fund investment manager Chelsea Brennan described feeling guilty as a breadwinning mom, saying, “Seeing pictures of other moms in my mom groups snuggling with their toddlers for afternoon naps rips me to shreds… I’m always trying to hustle to be the best mom, the best employee, a loving wife and there just isn’t enough time in the day.”
Since the responsibility of earning for your household falls upon you, you may feel intense pressure to work longer hours than necessary. Those with less of a financial cushion may even feel the need to take up a second job, leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
Needless to say, this can have a deleterious long-term impact on your health. In a study by University College London researchers, people who spent over 55 hours a week working were at greater risk for a heart attack and stroke compared to those who worked 35 to 40 hours per week.
But that’s not all. As the breadwinner of your household, your mental well-being may also be compromised. How? You may feel more stress and anxiety about making ends meet, and as a result, be more prone to depression.
Unfortunately, your earning power in a household may come with an expectation that you’ll be paying by default—whether that’s at a restaurant with friends or while you’re casually grocery shopping.
If you’re the sole income earner, this makes sense. However, if your partner has a salary of their own, this expectation makes it easy to feel slighted or even taken advantage of. This can strain your relationship with your partner, and even with family members who are aware of how much you earn. As business coach Stacy Caprio explains, you may have to “turn family members down by saying the family is not going to spend money on their request.”
Unfortunately, the financial responsibility that comes with breadwinning just might make you feel like a parent or babysitter to your partner.
In an ideal world, you and your partner would be equals in handling financial matters, including budgeting. So for one spouse to need to ask permission from the other, Arevalo says, “It’s quite childish for the husband to ask, especially if you consider him to be a grownup [that’s] able to understand the mere notion of budgeting.”
According to Adina Mahalli, founder of Enlightened Reality, “As the breadwinner, you might begin questioning your spouse’s spending. This could create a tense family dynamic and cause tiffs or even blowouts.”
But the question of whether you should or shouldn’t actually have more control over your household finances—it’s a contentious point.
Some people believe that the breadwinner should get more say in how a household’s finances are managed; others disagree and suggest maintaining an equal partnership in spite of who earns what. Regardless of which you believe, it’s well worth discussing your views with your partner before combining your finances.