November 21, 2013

Disclaimer: This post is written from my very privileged, Western perspective and I understand it is not indicative of all women’s feelings, and especially those in other countries.

At the early age of seven, I vividly remember playing at school and being panicked by the thought that when I grew up, I had to get married, have a house and have kids. Although we live in a new generation, at that age, I had still internalized many of those gender norms. I remember thinking, do I really have to do that?!

As I grew older, I realized I didn’t have to do any of that. To this day, I don’t really aspire to any of those things; I don’t want to get married, have kids or buy a house. While I may not be the norm, I feel incredibly grateful that women have so many choices.  Although women still make less than men (typically), we now have more opportunities. We are no longer relegated to a prescribed life that we may not want.

We have choices.

Along with all these choices, we are now seeing a shift in gender roles and a relatively new phenomenon: the female breadwinner. 

Women are making money, and in some instances making significantly more than their male partners. Some women are holding down the financial fort on their own.

My mom has been the sole income earner and breadwinner for the past 15 years. As I mentioned earlier, I am dating a musician, and because of the feast or famine nature of his work, I am the breadwinner in my relationship . I make more money and I provide health insurance for us (we can both be on it without being married!).

I have a partner that is not threatened by my successes, and is proud of me. He knows that this is a partnership and making money is one aspect of how we navigate life together. However, this dynamic can lead to a number of typical gender role reversals. For example, I work more hours at my job and with side hustling, so for us it makes sense for him to do the majority of the housework and cooking.

I don’t have a get-out-of-cleaning-your-shit card, and I do my fair share of cooking and cleaning, but from a time/money perspective it makes sense. When I know he is working late, I try to have some food ready for him when he gets home. It’s about working together with our resources, time and money, and making it work in the most effective way for both of us.

Our situation works well for us, but I also know that the situation can be stressful and uncomfortable for some. Money equals power; some men may not be comfortable making less money than their female partner. Some women may be uncomfortable or resent taking on the brunt of financial responsibility. I think navigating how a couple shares money, and housework can be delicate.

Last week, I spoke to a friend of mine who is going through a divorce. He was married to a woman who made double his income and in his words he “had it made”. He didn’t have to worry about money, and she let him do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. Then he told me something very revealing. He said, “After a while, I felt like she didn’t need me. She didn’t need me financially, and I had all the freedom and independence to do as I please.  I didn’t feel needed, so the relationship changed.”

While this is one specific story and isn’t necessarily telling of all relationships with a female breadwinner at the helm, I think it is interesting to think of how the shift in dynamic could be shifting our relationships and emotions. Are men feeling like they are no longer needed? Do women have to feel bad for making more money? Where is the balance?

I think it all comes down to communication and values. I don’t agree with my parents’ situation, but it works for them. I have a situation that works for me. No two couples are exactly the same, which is why it’s so important to communicate the needs of both parties in a clear manner. Instead of thinking that one person has more, and one has less, it’s about sharing resources to make sure your life is working for you and moving forward the way you want. You are working together.

Are you a female breadwinner? Has it affected your relationship? If so, how?

P.S. Love you Mom! So proud of you.


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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44 responses to “The Female Breadwinner”

  1. Coral says:

    I’m the female breadwinner, in fact, this post could have been written by me! My partner is working part time and studying while I work full time and pay all the rent and bills (he buys our food). We communicate and delegate and we’re both very secure with how we live. I actually prefer being the breadwinner as I’m fiercely independent, and I would hate to have to rely on anyone else. When my boyfriend becomes qualified and starts working full time we’ll have more money to save and enjoy, and we’ll pay for things 50/50, but until then I’m more than comfortable supporting the both of us.

    • deardebt says:

      I am also very independent as well and would never want to rely on someone else. We mostly pay 50/50 now, but I do help with his health insurance and pay extra sometimes when we go out. For now, it’s working, but I also can’t wait till both of our incomes are higher. Even though I’m the “breadwinner”, I work in the nonprofit sector, so we still have room to grow!
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  2. Bf and I both work full-time. He makes more money than me (which isn’t hard since I work in social services). I’ve never been the breadwinner because I have never made more money than a partner, but I can completely understand how making more money as a woman might be intimidating to some men based on gender roles and societal expectations of men. That being said, I think all of that is silly. Why can’t the woman be the breadwinner and the man stay at home with the kids, or clean the house, or whatever the case may be? As long as the situation fits both partners and nobody is feeling weird or guilty, I say rock those “role reversals”.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted…The First Time I Needed My Emergency FundMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I think it’s silly too. I’m glad we are having more discussions about it. I do think some men and women don’t know how to deal with it based on internal expectations and external expectations from society. But I say rock it too, and do what’s best. I do think being a DINK is admirable and once BOTH of our incomes grow, I will feel really good about our financial future.
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  3. I do not want to be the breadwinner by a long-shot. Our goal is for each of our incomes to be high enough so that we can live comfortably on that income – pay all of our bills, save for retirement, go on vacations, etc., on that one income. The other – higher income – is completely banked away. There is a lot of stress that comes with being the majority or sole provider of financial security in a household, and I do not want that stress, nor do I expect my husband to shoulder it. So as long as we are able to and as much as possible, we are going to be dual income couple. For the next few years, though, I will be the breadwinner as my husband is going back to school for a graduate degree. But long term? Absolutely not, if we can help it.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted…Give the gift of experience this ChristmasMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I think that’s a fascinating model. The higher income socked away?! That’s kind of brilliant. Ideally we will get to a place where we can live off of one income and the other puts a ton of $ towards student loans. Once we are both free of student loans, we can do something similar and save a ton for travel.

      It’s hard supporting someone going back to school, while you are working, but totally doable. I did it! I think it’s best for short-term too.
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  4. I am a female breadwinner. He knew what he was getting in to. We met when I was in grad school and I was pretty much guaranteed to surpass his salary with my first step onto the career ladder. That being said, even though he knew it coming in, I think that he wasn’t expecting it to effect him now so much. We’ve definitely had heated discussions about it, and it’s a learning curve. We’re both realizing fair isn’t equal.

    I then think back to my parents, when my father was the sole earner for 90% of my childhood, and I had conversations with my mother about feeling like she wasn’t contributing enough, etc. There are generally going to be issues of pride that come up, whether the breadwinner is male or female, especially if there is a larger disparity between the two salaries.
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted…how do you make friends as an adult?My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Fair is definitely not equal. Equality is such a hard term to define and very elusive. Pride and resentment can often come up for both parties when one person is the primary earner. I agree that it is increased if the disparity is larger. I don’t have that issue, unfortunately we’re both pretty low earners right now. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  5. Amanda says:

    It may be too early in my relationship to really be considered the “breadwinner”, but if this relationship continues, I will be.

    Because I work for a college, I’m part of a union – I get paid well, lots of paid sick days, vacation days, health benefits, regular raises, etc. My boyfriend used to own his own business (which went under), and now works as a cook. He’s a fantastic one, but doesn’t have the piece of paper, so he doesn’t get paid well.

    I don’t know if/how this will affect our relationship going forward, but considering how open about money and our personal finances we’ve been with each other in the less than 2 months we’ve been dating, I imagine we will work it out.
    Amanda recently posted…Goal 83. Buy 5 things off EtsyMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      It’s still early, you have plenty of time to figure things out. Communication is key and sounds like you are on the right track. I think it’s important to see the value in a person, outside of their job. A job is but one aspect of a person.
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  6. I think the important thing to remember, like you pointed out, is that you and your partner should always be a team. Being a breadwinner isn’t the end-all-be-all; the person making less in the relationship still has something of value to offer. It’s not all about finances – there are lots of other things that need to be contributed! 🙂
    Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial recently posted…The Importance of Saving No Matter How Much You MakeMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Yes, a team! There are many ways to contribute, and many that are not related to ones job or income. I think that example is especially true for stay at home moms. So many little things, gestures, emotional support can go unnoticed if one only focuses on income .Thanks for your comment, Kali!
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  7. You know I remember seeing something on Oprah once about how some things we women do DO make men feel not needed. I think it was Steve Harvy. I really don’t know…I guess I can see how your guy friend who is getting divorced might have felt that way, but perhaps it had less to do with money, and maybe more on how she treated him. I’m sure there is a lot there that has yet to be discovered. In some sense, it’s hard to shake off years and years of social conditioning and our “primal” behaviors, like men wanting to take care his woman. 🙂 I think we are all walking around just slightly confused, so you’re right, being open and honest is key.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted…A Community Comes Together: The South Bay CaresMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Definitely a lot going on there that I’m not aware of. It’s interesting to think about primal behaviors vs. conditioning. I am also speaking of the gender dynamic between men and women; I wonder what differences and similarities there are between same sex couples.

  8. I’m not the female breadwinner although I think it would be super cool to be one! 🙂 I think as long as both partners have the same views on finances then it shouldn’t matter who makes more money because it would be super awkward if only one person was spending it all!
    Girl Meets Debt recently posted…Debt Confessions: Little Miss Money’s StoryMy Profile

  9. Michelle says:

    I am a female breadwinner. People used to make fun of W, but I honestly think it’s just because they are jealous. Luckily all of my friends (there are 6 of us in our “group”) and we are ALL the breadwinners as well, so it makes us feel more “normal.”
    Michelle recently posted…Would You Ever Move To A Completely New Place?My Profile

  10. E.M. says:

    I am all for female breadwinners. Currently, my boyfriend technically makes more than me when he gets monthly bonuses, plus he works overtime, but for base pay, we are about equal. It’s nice this way, as there’s really no competition, and we both feel secure. I’d have no issue earning more than him, and I don’t think he would be particularly bothered by it. I can understand why men want to feel needed financially, with the traditional gender roles and all, but I am glad women have become more independent over time.
    E.M. recently posted…What To Think About When RelocatingMy Profile

  11. anna says:

    My mom was the breadwinner, as well, and I do think that’s one of the reasons why they divorced. B makes more than me, but since we found each other later on life neither of us really depend on other (at least not now since we don’t have kids yet). For us, we were doing well on our own, but now that we do have each other, it’s like icing on the cake since some of our systems work more efficiently or reduced in half (money and time wise) since there’s another person there. Like you said, it’s a sharing of money and responsibilities and working collectively.
    anna recently posted…You Know What’s Awesome…My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      I’m sorry about your mom 🙁 It can be hard to bear, especially if it’s not clear what the expectations are, of if someone feels used. Glad you and B were awesome on your own, now just joined forces to be doubly awesome 🙂
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  12. Morgaine says:

    I’m not the “breadwinner” but I make good money and bring in a good portion of the “bread” which my hubby knows. Its good that you are able to make it work for you two and have a fair relationship when it comes to both money and housework.
    Morgaine recently posted…How We Split the BillsMy Profile

  13. My bf came into the relationship knowing that I would out earn him in the long run, once my career was in full steam. And the best thing is that he respects and accepts that. I know when that time comes, it’ll all have worked itself out because we will (hopefully ) built by then the foundations of a really great relationship. It’s tough when I see couples where they don’t respect the hard work their partner has put into something they love or at least enjoy to some small extent.
    Amanda @ Passionately Simple Life recently posted…The Student Loan StoryMy Profile

  14. My wife earns a similar amount to me – but currently chooses to stay at home to look after our 14month old baby.
    If could easily be me staying at home. I wouldn’t mind being a stay at home dad.
    Bringing up kids is great fun.
    One day my wife will probably earn more than me – I don’t have a problem with that either.
    Living together, marriage bringing up kids is a partnership that works best when the partnership is equal.
    GetRichWithMe recently posted…Navel GazingMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Thanks for your comment! I often think about how tough that decision must be– to stay home or go back to work. Childcare is so expensive, so it makes sense in some ways to stay at home. Glad you guys have found a situation that works for you.
      deardebt recently posted…The Female BreadwinnerMy Profile

  15. Pauline says:

    I used to earn way more than my ex and it worked fine for us, he would do a lot to make my life easier at home and I would pay for luxuries for both of us like holidays and restaurants but once his parents came home and called him my maid and started poisoning him with bad thoughts like that, he said he didn’t mind and our relationship was fair but his parents won in the end and broke us up.
    Pauline recently posted…Carnival of Financial Independence, 38th editionMy Profile

  16. I wasn’t the female breadwinner in the family for the longest time and I felt like there were things that were not right. Now that I am, I feel a certain kind of freedom I didn’t feel before. Hooray to females who proved that they, too, can do it! I only feel sorry that to some, it kind of worked against them for some reason.
    Jen @ Frugal Rules recently posted…How To Travel For FreeMy Profile

  17. I’m the breadwinner right now because of unemployment. It’s a strange feeling even though I grew up with a single mother and with two aunts who all supported themselves without a man around to help. Part of it makes my feminist self feel real strong and important, and other times I can be resentful and angry over the situation.

    Then again, I have friends who are essentially trophy partners who equally resent their husbands or boyfriends for making their majority of the wealth.
    Michelle recently posted…From an Employee’s Point of View: Black FridayMy Profile

    • deardebt says:

      It can definitely take a toll on you and your relationship. These sort of situations can derail (or postpone) your own dreams and your life goals together. I think you are doing a great job moving through it. You will be stronger once you guys both get settled. And as you mentioned, it’s only temporary. I think I’d rather be a breadwinner, than a trophy partner, but that is just me.

  18. I make more than my husband, but not a significant amount more. We share all of our funds so it doesn’t make a difference to me. As far as we’re both concerned, the more both of us make…the better. It all goes into one pot.

    I do like contributing, though, and it makes me happy to make more than him most of the time, especially since I’m self-employed.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Avoiding Obamacare: Screw You Guys, I’m Outta HereMy Profile

  19. I had a similar set up in my last relationship. He was the breadwinner so he helped cover some of the expenses while I took care of cooking and cleaning. It helped me out a lot but I also hated that I didn’t have the power. I want my contributions to be a choice rather than dictated by necessity.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…How To Vacation When “Broke”.My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      It’s not fun to feel powerless in a relationship based on contribution. Everyone has something to contribute which is of value, and each couple needs to decide what that is for them.

  20. I’m totally pumped on the rise of the female breadwinner!

    I would gladly have my woman make way more, work, and provide for the family. I love to take care of the house and write so all is good.

    Also, I haven’t not paid for a meal or drink in my last 10+ encounters. Would be nice if roles were reversed a little.

    Financial Samurai recently posted…The Personal Savings Rate In America And The Best Way To Save A Ton Of MoneyMy Profile

  21. eemusings says:

    I am actually and have been so for the majority of our relationship. (That might change in 2014 and I would be happy for it to!) It doesn’t bother us who makes more money; what DOES bug me is that T is a spender while I’m a saver, and thus I think it would be easier/preferable for him to be the breadwinner in that sense – if you want to spend more, you have to earn the income to fund that.
    eemusings recently posted…Confession: Our finances are a mess right now (and I’m okay with that)My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      That’s hard when one person is a saver and one is a spender. For us, we both just really need to make more money. At this point, even though I make more, with my debt, we are both sort of just getting by. Hopefully 2014 for will be lucrative for you guys money-wise and for us too 🙂

  22. When I was younger, I was seen as “boy crazy”. I always had a boyfriend and then I got married at a young age.

    After my divorce, I was terrified to live by myself and do anything and everything by myself. Now, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I can go anywhere, do anything, cook whatever I want whenever I want. I like not having to consider another person in all of my decisions.

    I do not see myself getting married again or having kids at any point. What’s really frustrating about this is people’s reactions when I mention this. Generally they say something along the lines of “You’re still young. You just haven’t found the right guy. You’ll change your mind about marriage and kids. Blah blah blah.”

    I actually get rather angry about this and my mom is one of the worst about saying “You’ll change your mind someday”!!

    I’d love to use this post and “Sometimes you have to walk to the beat of your own drum” for inspiration on a similar topic post for my blog. Thanks again for the permission to use Busy vs Productive for inspiration. If it’s okay with you, I will link back to your posts when I use them for inspiration! I’d really appreciate it 🙂
    Shoeaholicnomore recently posted…Check In 2/7/2014My Profile

    • deardebt says:

      Of course you are welcome to use as inspiration and link back to my posts. I’m glad you find so much use out of them 🙂 I am glad you are at a place now where you are in charge, and not at the whim of someone else. The thing is you can change your mind, or not — it’s up to you. What bothers me is when people think they KNOW about how your life will turn out, and don’t give you a chance to figure it out yourself. I’m so glad you are here, and hope to see you around more 🙂

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