You’ve heard — I hope — about the gender pay gap. That pesky, proven bit of inequality whereby “U.S. women working full-time earned just $0.80 for every dollar earned by a man in 2016.” It’s good reason for taking active measures to put women on equal financial footing with men when they’re doing equivalent work. That would be a significant step toward becoming the meritocracy we often claim to be. Sounds simple, right?
Not so fast. In a no-win situation they likely find familiar, women who already earn more than their male partners run into a host of other problems — mostly because their men can’t seem to handle playing second fiddle.
Here are all the ways these dudes fail to cope:
They Lie About Their Own Income
Research from the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that both husband and wife tend to distort their wages when the wife makes more overall. In this situation, both parties in the couple may exaggerate the husband’s earnings and diminish the wife’s.
Analysts discovered this by way of discrepancies between reported income in IRS tax filings and on Census Bureau surveys (where income is more commonly misrepresented).
They also found that the husbands in these marriages inflated their earnings more than the wives did and devalued the wives’ income more than the wives did.
Sure looks like men are insecure little shits about not being the economic alpha of the household, while women are willing to flatter their egos and downplay their own earning power out of… what? Shame? Fear? Respect for useless mid-century norms around who should be supporting whom? Maybe all of the above.
They Make Their Wives Do More Work Around the House
The division of housework in a marriage has always been lopsided, and women still do the majority of chores at home — another remnant of the stifling old family archetype in which the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is a homemaker.
What’s stranger than that is how women who make more than their male spouse are doing extra domestic labor in addition to outearning the man.
Again, there may be an insidious form of gender guilt behind the issue. As FiveThirtyEight data expert Mona Chalabi explained to NPR, a possible explanation for the widening housework gap “is that a high-earning woman is trying to make sure that her husband doesn’t feel threatened.
The idea is basically that men might feel a bit emasculated by a woman that earns more than them.” Doing every load of laundry, then, could be another troubling concession to male ego. Wash a dish, man.
They Cheat, Withdraw Sexually and Spark Divorce
If a successful, high-earning woman finds, dates and settles down with a suitable man — a challenge in its own right, these women say — that husband “is five times as likely to be unfaithful as other husbands,” according to the book When She Makes More.
On the home front, meanwhile, bedroom politics can become downright frosty as the man confronts this financial power dynamic and his “beta” status.
“According to psychologists (and divorce lawyers) who see couples struggling with such changes, many relationships follow the same pattern,” New York magazine reported. “First, the wife starts to lose respect for her husband, then he begins to feel emasculated and then sex dwindles to a full stop.”
Either condition, especially alongside arguments concerning the balance of household and child-care duties, can lead to divorce; if a woman makes more than her husband, it “increases the likelihood of divorce by 50 percent,” per a University of Chicago study.
If Conservative, They Move Further Right
Research from the Harvard Business Review showed that Republican men losing economic ground to their wives became deeper entrenched in their conservative views — more opposed to abortion rights and government aid to African-Americans. It’s almost as if they embrace their reactionary side as soon as their status or outdated gender identity is threatened!
Thankfully, the same isn’t true of Democratic men outearned by their wives, whose politics started learning further left, perhaps because “the shock of losing relative income has led these men to conclude that they can’t define themselves through traditionally masculine roles.” That sounds a hell of a lot healthier for everyone.
They Literally Just Drop Dead
Apparently, stay-at-home dads and other men financially supported by female partners are so ill-equipped to play the part of a tax return dependent that they’re falling prey to killer stress-related ailments, as well as heart disease and diabetes, MEL’s Ian Lecklitner has written.
Rutgers University professor Kristen Springer, who identified this phenomenon, says that even controlling for unhealthy behaviors (smoking, drinking, sedentary lifestyle leading to obesity), these guys are at an increased risk of everything from stomach ulcers to strokes, to say nothing of psychiatric disorders — meaning it’s their cultural attitudes compromising their health.
“One important thing to consider about the stress associated with being a secondary earner is that it’s strictly about not living up to masculinity ideals,” Springer explains. “We can completely get rid of the problem by changing this idea that men should be breadwinners.”
You know what else that might fix? Everything on this list.