Mo' money means mo' problems for married women

OPINION - My advice to the sisters (of all hues) is to keep doing that which makes you feel fabulous and successful, but be mindful that men do not share our wiring...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

A recent spate of news headlines regarding women who out earn men and the impact this may have on a man’s fidelity as well as increasing the likelihood of divorce for high-earning career girls, is disturbing but not necessarily surprising.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Family Issues in October found that women who earned more than their husbands, were almost 40 percent more likely to divorce than their lesser-earning counterparts. The study, which was conducted over the course of 25 years, found that women who earned around 60 percent of the total household income were much more likely to split. Surprisingly, it also didn’t matter how affluent the couple was; rich or poor, a couple was more likely to split if the woman was the main breadwinner.

I honestly believe this data is accurate as reflected in my own parent’s divorce many years ago now. My mother, after many years of being a housewife and part-time restaurant counter girl, finally earned a professional degree and once she began to out earn my father, they eventually divorced. I am by no means saying this is the only reason why they split, but I do know that for a man of my father’s generation (Baby Boomers born in the mid 1940s) having a wife who out-earned him was not necessarily welcome advancement.

A companion piece on last month, profiled a study done by Cornell researcher Christin Munsch using data found from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. She examined the results of a national survey that tracked 9,000 people beginning in 1997 when they were children. She focused on the results of the survey from 2001-2007, when the participants were between 17 and 27-years-old.

Munsch found that men who are financially dependent on their female partners are five times more likely to step out than men who make the same amount of money. In a interview last month with Health Day magazine, Munsch, a graduate student at Cornell University, said she came up with the idea of studying the effects of income on infidelity after hearing from a friend who has cheated on his partner. The friend told Munsch that “she made all the money, she had all the friends, and he’d moved up there to be with her. He felt completely powerless.” Again, no surprises here.

What makes these studies unique, however, is that previous research into infidelity or divorce, didn’t look into differences in income among couples as a possible problem area. I think this is critical as a new generation of women (that started with my generation of Gen Xers in the 1980s and 1990s) are emerging more educated, more financially independent and more focused on what they want from a male in their intimate relationships and those wants have shifted dramatically. By that I mean, in my grandmother and mother’s day they looked for a man who was the epitome of male masculinity: a good provider, good father, hardworking (regardless of whether he was a janitor or a bricklayer), and faithful. Women nowadays are more interested in what I call the “soft” skills of a man—good education, good lover, good conversationalist, good companion, someone exciting who likes to travel, and someone that drives nice cars and has nice things.

So, what does this tell us as women, and as a culture that is becoming increasingly more single and increasingly more cohabitation versus traditional marriage? And I might add nowhere is this more dramatic than in the African-American community, where according to US Census Bureau statistics, 44 percent of black women have never been married, and 70 percent of professional black women are currently unmarried

Well, as my grandmother used to say, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Boy, was she right. I think that if we objectively consider all of the books and article that have been written over the last two decades starting with the huge international best-seller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus we already know the answers to what the data is proving to be true. That is this: Men and women are wired very differently and that we are socialized very early on to play certain roles in the home and in society.

As the data in my forthcoming book on the lives of accomplished black women will show, however, men are not necessarily intimidated by a woman’s success and financial earning power. They are however, very concerned about how well they fare financially as men in their intimate relationships with women.

But here is my point: Unless and until we socialize men to feel equally powerful and equally valuable in a marriage, or relationship with women who happen to be better educated and earn more than them these numbers and trends will continue to exist at an alarming rate.

My advice to the sisters (of all hues) is to keep doing that which makes you feel fabulous and successful, but be mindful that men do not share our wiring. As one male in our national focus groups for my book put it: “we have simple circuitry and if women could just learn that all we want is to be appreciated for what we do right, respected for our role as head of household (even if she makes more), and made love to on a regular women could get anything they want from us and we will be as faithful as a loyal Labrador.”

I think I just let that statement stand for itself!