Dana Hunsinger Benbow, The Indianapolis Star
- Author says it can be difficult for a man who makes less than wife
- Many couples manage the flipped financial roles well
- Study in 2010 found couple is more likely to divorce when wife contribution to pair's income tops 60%
After a long, hard day at work,Katherine Murray arrives home to a martini and newspaper by her easy chair. Dinner is bubbling on the stove.
The house is sparkling, laundry is folded and grocery shopping is complete.
"It's like the 1950s in reverse," said Murray, 51.
Reverse because it's Murray who pulls in a plump $90,000 salary in her gig with the federal government.
Her husband, Mike Mills? Around $6,000, waiting tables 15 hours a week.
Breadwinner, she is.
Emasculated, he's not.
Experts say good for them. It doesn't always work that way.
In 40 percent of American marriages, women are the higher earners. The growing phenomenon is one that can create a troubling dynamic for couples.
Think men not feeling manly. Think women losing attraction to their mates because, deep down, they really want to be taken care of.
Think both genders feeling guilty, even judged (hello, in-laws). He for not doing more financially. She for not being there for the kids or domestic duties.
And, in some cases, resentment can fester on both sides.
"Women can feel like they have lost respect for their partners, like they aren't doing enough," said Liza Mundy, who wrote "Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love and Family." "And it can be hard for the man, particularly if he considers breadwinner as part of his identity."
Even today, many men still do. But the tides are changing. Mundy said plenty of couples are adjusting just fine to the woman being on top economically.
"If I'm honest with myself, I don't want to be responsible for bringing in the major part of the income," said Mills, 49, who serves lunch at a local restaurant. "I accepted that."
And Murray has, too. After all, Mills was the financial provider while she was in law school. The couple have been together nearly 20 years.
"He carried me for five years," said Murray, a human resource specialist at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Indianapolis. "He put me in the position I am in now, so I have no qualms about sharing the wealth, so to speak."
Same goes for Jennifer Trotter, 37, a physician in the National Guard, who is in residency to be an emergency medicine physician. Her husband, Scott, 37, gave up his construction business to stay home with their three daughters, ages 2 to 8.
"We don't see (the money) as mine and his. It's ours," said Jennifer. "We are all putting in the same effort. It's a team."
For the Trotters, after adding up day care costs, it didn't make sense to have Scott work. And Jennifer loves to come home to dinner, a clean house and the security that someone who loves her daughters as much as she does is caring for them day after day.
But, both Trotters admit that even in their ideal situation, there are downsides to the female-breadwinner phenomenon.
"Sometimes, I come home, and he is burnt out," said Jennifer. "Like he needs more adult contact."
When asked if he ever feels like less of a man because his wife is the provider, Scott said an emphatic "no."
He does, at times, feel a need to do more than just raise his daughters.
So, what once was a nice house is now immaculate, resembling those rooms on the pages of a glossy magazine. While Jennifer has worked, Scott has remodeled the entire home.
"That's what has kept me sane," he said.
Male vs. female independence
The culmination of decades of what women thought they wanted as they fought to shatter that glass ceiling and achieve pay equity in the workplace, hasn't turned out so well for some, said author Mary Eberstadt.
She claims in her book "Adam and Eve After the Pill" that the sexual revolution -- and gender equality -- is "the paradox of declining female happiness."
In fact, a 2010 study by Western Washington University researchers found that when a woman's contribution to household income tops 60 percent, the couple is more likely to divorce.
Why? There are a variety of reasons. A financially independent woman can leave at any time. And while many women thought they wanted that financial power, some actually crave a male equal.
Finally, studies show that dependent men are more likely to stray than their female dependent predecessors.
"If you don't feel masculine, that's going to be a little bit of a problem in the bedroom," said Kimble Richardson, a licensed marriage and family therapist with St. Vincent.
But all is not bad in the female breadwinning realm, as the Chris and Jennifer Berry prove.
Jennifer, 39, is a senior vice president and creative director at an advertising and public relations agency. Chris, 40, quit his job at the same agency (where he made about 60 percent of her salary) in July to open a retail gift boutique.
The masculine/manly question doesn't bother him a bit.
"I am a dude, but I am also an artist," said Chris. "I'm not too concerned about looking too manly. I will sit down with a sewing machine. I cook."
And to be honest, that's probably the type of man it takes to be OK with a breadwinning wife, said Richardson.
"It takes a . . . I don't want to say unusual, but it takes a certain guy to be able to do this," he said. "If the guy is very confident and doesn't let his worth come from his work, it can work out pretty well."