Almost 40% of US working wives now outearn their husbands. Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy argues that “the Big Flip” in gender roles “is just around the corner” in her new book: The Richer Sex. Soon “women, not men, will become the top earners in households” and that will transform the dynamics of male-female relationships.
Mundy sprinkles interviews with women and men throughout the book to highlight her positions and theories. She sees the emergence of a country (and world) where both sexes are “freer to make purely romantic choices” based on individual preference rather than constrained by long-held stereotypes about who should be the primary breadwinner. For large parts of the US economy, you don’t need physical strength and stamina to put food on the table and a roof over your head.
Mundy speculates that women are better adapting to the knowledge-driven economy of the United States. Middle skill jobs are disappearing. Men lost 75% of the 7 million jobs that disappeared during the Great Recession. Industrial jobs are being outsourced. That means making the educational leap to higher tier jobs. Women receive 57% of bachelor degrees and account for 60% of graduate school enrollment.
Mundy concludes that the bread-winning woman is dramatically changing the face of marriage and quality of marriage. They prefer a marriage of equals, or at least a man with strong career ambition and intellect. That means women would choose being single to being in a bad marriage. With their earning potential, they don’t need a husband for financial support.
Mundy relates the story of a high-powered executive in a lackluster marriage, with a husband that was resentful of his wife’s career. (He didn’t have one.) They fought over getting a dog. He thought the dog would absorb too much of her time and affection. She ended up getting the dog and he got mad. Then she had a brainstorm. Get rid of him and keep the dog. “The dog is very supportive of her achievements.”
This growth of female breadwinners is not just a US phenomenon. It’s happening in South Korea, Japan, Singapore, France, Chile, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, the Philippines, and Norway. As the world economy is starting to rely more on brainpower than musclepower, women are the winning participants in the economy. There is still great inequality. But it’s changing. This book looks ahead to where that may lead as women overtake men as the breadwinners.
I first heard of this book while listening to an interview of Liz Mundy on a podcast of C-SPAN’s Book TV. (Yes, I’m that much of a geek.) The interview was great and prompted me to run down to the library and borrow a copy. I suggest you do the same.