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Women who earn more than their men

Sean Cole May 30, 2008

Women who earn more than their men

Sean Cole May 30, 2008


Tess Vigeland: Carrie, Cosmos, and Manolos are back! This weekend the women of Sex and the City hit the big screen. Now they’ve certainly had their share of debates about money and men. Carrie’s Mr. Big makes big dough. Miranda the high-powered lawyer has always made more money than husband Steve. But a recent report based on census data showed that even today — in an age of a fully viable female presidential candidate — women who outearned their male suitors made them feel uncomfortable and inadequate. We asked Marketplace’s Sean Cole to look into it, And he ended up feeling a little inadequate himself.

Sean Cole: My plan was to call up five women who make a lotta money and ask them about their dating woes. And this plan made my friend Pagan Kennedy, another journalist, really mad.

Pagan Kennedy: And what I get frustrated by is when editors create these trend stories and find five women who can’t meet a boyfriend. When they do that, they are affecting so many women.

Women like her. Pagan doesn’t make a lot of money, but she does own a house. And while none of her boyfriends have ever been intimidated by that, including her current one who lives with her, that didn’t stop her from worrying they would be.

Kennedy: And I knew that these were stupid, stupid, dumb ideas, like somehow you can have one thing or the other; you can have a career or you can have a man. It’s not true! You can always find five people to back up whatever trend story you wanna write.

But as it turns out, that’s not true either. I didn’t just speak with five women; I spoke with six — the narrowest data sample you can imagine — all Bay Area residents, all 41 to 65 years old, earning anywhere from $75,000 to well over $100,000 a year. Nonetheless, while some of them said their money made some men squirrely…

Woman 1: Either they see me as like this ATM machine or there’s a resentment like, “I should be making more than you.”

Others said the opposite.

Woman 2: When I dated men who made less, my two experiences were that they actually liked that I made more money.

Not only that, but age was a factor. One woman said guys her age have problems with her affluence, but younger guys don’t.

Woman 3: In fact, they consider professional success in a woman as an aphrodisiac.

Of course, that opinion wasn’t consistent either.

Woman 4: So, this is going to be a bit of a difficult piece if you’re getting such varying opinions.

Tell me about it. The only thing to do was to present a couple of opposing cases and try to sort of divine the truth that way. So, submitted for your approval, Case 1: Lyn Rousseau, 45 years old, self employed — she does work for title and escrow companies — and she says relationships with guys who earn less always kind of follow the same trajectory.

Lyn Rousseau: In the beginning, I think they enjoy it, it’s like “Oh great, I’m special. This is fabulous wow, ” you know, But, you know, then when you look back in hindsight it’s like, hmmmm it was great, wasn’t it. (laughs)

Cole: Great for them, because you make more.

Lyn Rousseau: Exactly. Great for them. Yeah, they’re loving it.

Some of the guys have taken advantage of her. So now, on the first date or two, she really plays down what she does for a living. And she certainly doesn’t let on that she owns her own place.

Rousseau: I mean, I’ll actually say, you know, “Yeah, I’ve got a lousy landlord,” and so I am working that angle.

And she tends to size them up with a little litmus test.

Rousseau: So, you know, we’ll go out and, you know, the bill comes and I’m just looking around. I’m not making any effort to pay it or split it or anything.

Pagan was not pleased with this example, and she really wanted me to talk to some couple friends of hers who were living happily ever after, even though the women earned more.

Kennedy: I feel like I had so many of them, and now I’m letting you and the feminist movement down.

Luckily, I managed to find a couple all on my own. Case No. 2: Kate and Randy.

Kate: I like it if he takes me out once a week. That’s nice.

Cole: And do you feel like you need to pay for dinner once a week because you’re the guy?

Randy: Yeah.

They rent an apartment outside Boston, have been together about five years, they’re in their mid 20’s and while neither of them earns a ton — a lot of Kate’s paycheck goes to student loans — she makes about 50 percent more than Randy does. But he’s pretty nonchalant about it.

Randy: I never got that part of the male-female dynamic where the male had to be the primary breadwinner, and the female just did other stuff.

Still, Randy says things would have been different if Kate, say, owned her own house when they met.

Randy: That would be really impressive and also very intimidating.

Cole Really?!

Kate: Really?!

Randy: Yes, absolutely. It’s just a level of financial commitment I can’t match at this point in my life.

And he says part of him would wonder whether he was staying with her because of chemistry or because she was financially stable.

Kirby Rosplock: Well, and if we think of this in a historic perspective, women have often been objectified going way back to early arranged marriages and dowries.

Kirby Rosplock is a great person to talk about gender roles and money. She’s the head of Research and Development at the wealth management firm Genspring. Did her dissertation on women and wealth. She says even the very concept of a financial trust has gendery origins.

Rosplock: Well that goes way, way back to the Middle Ages. Men were going off to fight in the Crusade and the wife was minding the household. So they put their assets, their farms, their livestock in trust to their neighbor, the male farmer across the way while they were gone.

Cole: Not trusting your wife is how trusts began.

Rosplock: That’s, that’s actually the irony.

So, it’s no small wonder that flipping these ancient norms upside down can complicate relationships. But those complications aside, pretty much every guy I talked to told me that they themselves didn’t mind their girlfriends or wives earning higher salaries.

Man 1: I didn’t have a problem with it.

Man 2: Initially, I used be kind of psyched; it’s cool.

Man 3: My fiance significantly out-earns me, and let me recommend to every man out there that that is the way to go.

And still, in doing this story, I realized that we all have those old patriarchal tapes playing in our heads to some extent. Which brings us back to me and Pagan.

Kennedy: Well, what are the tapes that play in your head?

Cole: Well, that I have to pay for the woman on the first date, obviously.

Kennedy: OK, Sean, Sean. We’re gonna start you on a whole new program. On your next date, you either wait for the woman to pay or you’re gonna say, “Let’s go Dutch.”

Cole: I couldn’t do it.

Kennedy: But what if you did?

Cole: Then, what if she didn’t want to hang out with me after that?

Kennedy: Then she probably doesn’t want an equal relationship.

And for Pagan, the definition of an equal relationship is going Dutch, on a grand scale, for the rest of your life.

In Boston, I’m Sean Cole for Marketplace Money.

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