Women have inherited a legacy of imbalance regarding money and power, says Ellen Mackenzie, author of B.I.T.C.H Power: A Woman’s Guide to Shattering Glass Ceilings, Building Empires, Making Money and Changing the World. Yet, we are told it’s now better, that equality has improved and we are finally closing the gap… but a new one is opening up, she writes in this extract on the female breadwinner.
In fact, 54% of women were found to be the primary breadwinners in their families in 2020. Added to that, among six-figure earners, one out of every three are female breadwinners1.
Millennial women are poised to become the emerging face of the breadwinner – the female breadwinner – but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The representation gap might be narrowing, but as one gap starts to close, another one appears.
Because quietly lurking in the corner is a simmering resentment frequently experienced when women out-earn their male partners. Unfortunately, for some men income ranking and wealth status in relationships still matters (and the bias is not in our favour).
Women’s advanced income status gets a bad rap, even though most households cannot rely on a single income to sustain current expenses or plan for the future, the traditional roles are still deeply embedded in our society.
While women can work part-time or stay out of the workforce altogether without impacting their marriage, for a man anything less than full-time employment increases the risk of divorce2.
According to another study, the majority of people believe it’s crucial for a man to financially support his family to be a good partner, but for women less than half of the people felt the same way3.
Because of all this, women are both downplaying their achievements and straight-out lying about their earnings; lest their partners feel emasculated or embarrassed.
The pandemic made it clear: the housework still falls on women, female breadwinner or not.
Men are resentful that they have to do chores. Women are resentful that they STILL have to do chores, even though they are 1.5 times more likely to be the primary income earner than the previous generations4.
Historically, women provided the invisible domestic labour that enables the function of a household and indirectly contributes to their male partner’s bottom line: a robust career and healthy income growth. By de facto, this means women will have less overall time and energy to reach their full earning potential – which is still an issue today.
We might be created equal, but equal treatment is not a given. Women are often held to a different standard and this was made painfully obvious during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Globally, the pandemic impacted women disproportionately. Women’s jobs were 1.8x more vulnerable than mens5 and women’s reduced labour market participation was impacted dramatically – to the tune of 54 million women globally6. A staggering amount of women had to pull out or drop out of the labour force entirely to manage family responsibilities and education as the world went into lockdown.
And here’s the real kicker: the global economic gender pay gap won’t close for at least another 268 years, with the pandemic increasing this by 100 years7.
The pandemic didn’t singularly create these disparities – it just shone a light on existing systemic inequities and deepened the divide.
It’s time to wear your Female Breadwinner badge with pride
As we step into our B.I.T.C.H power, we need to talk the talk. We need to celebrate our wins with our loved ones and stop hiding everything because we’re “afraid” about what they might think. Generally speaking, women don’t feel awkward when their male partners earn more – we celebrate a well-earned promotion. So why should we expect women to sidestep relationship triggers gingerly?
Becoming the primary breadwinner isn’t about ousting anyone out of a role they feel otherwise entitled to or protecting bruised egos. It’s about owning your legacy, creating wealth and responsible financial stewardship.
Start having those uncomfortable conversations with your partners. I know first-hand what it was like to be in a relationship where I was constantly trying to dim my light so I didn’t outshine the other person. I know what it’s like to dismiss my achievements and awards because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
And I know so many people reading right now would have been like my old self, too shy to talk to their husband or boyfriend about their finances and goals. So your challenge is to take what you’ve read here and let it be the fire in your belly.
Push yourself to have these difficult conversations, to listen to your partner but also make them hear your own feelings and goals. This open conversation is so important to your relationship as well as your overall happiness.
It’s time to flip the script when it comes to who “wears the pants” because there is no “Head of the House” in relationships that honour mutual respect and a shared workload (regardless of how much money is rolling into your account).
How to have a “money date” with your partner
- Set aside a block of time to tackle all things finances as a couple. You can even make it a fun trip out to your favourite cafe or restaurant and bring along your laptop so it doesn’t feel like a chore. What’s most important is making sure it’s a solid block of time away from distractions
- Be mindful of how you approach the idea of a money date with your significant other – you don’t want them to feel like they’re being ambushed. Saying something like, “We need to talk” can cause some people to put up barriers immediately. Instead, consider something along the lines of, “I’m getting really excited about the future and I’d love to work on some goals we can achieve together. Can we set a date to chat about finances?” Starting the conversation on a walk can also feel less confrontational, or in any similar place where you know they are likely to feel more comfortable
- Don’t go straight to criticism. We want to be honest and upfront when we have these money chats, but we also don’t want to go straight into a rant complaining. Starting with something positive, like goals, is a better way for you both to get excited and motivated
- This brings me to the next step of creating goals. This will help you understand each other’s personal ambitions and possibly find some common goals you can help motivate each other towards. When you start to get excited about a new home, car, dream vacation, starting a family, retirement etc, it becomes easier to talk about those trickier and not so fun topics like budgeting, investing and reducing debt
- Get to know each other’s financial status and spending habits. Again, we are not here to criticise, this is all about creating a greater mutual understanding and knowing how you can support each other. For example, knowing your partner has loans or credit cards to pay off allows you both to understand where you’re at better and what needs addressing to reach your goals
- Ask how they handled money in their previous relationships. This will give you a good idea of where their head is at and what has and hasn’t worked in the past for them. It could also bring up anything around money that negatively impacted that relationship and what you could both learn from that to build a better future for yourselves
- Are you going to combine finances? This is another important topic to dive into if you haven’t already. For those new relationships, discuss what happens to your accounts when you move in together or get married. As a woman, I always think it’s very important to have your own money, even just a portion of it, in your own bank account. This is an important tool for freedom if something ever goes wrong in the relationship and you have the funds to make a decision for yourself, without having to ask your spouse for permission
- Throughout your money date, it’s important to respect each other’s boundaries as partners. As much as you want to come together with your finances, every individual has the right to make their own decisions with the money they have earned themselves. Keep the respect levels high and adopt an open mind
- Once your money date is over, summarise the conversation at the end. This makes sure you’ve both heard each other and double-check nothing was lost in translation. Keeping a written copy of the key things discussed could also be good as a reminder moving forward
- Even if the date goes well and you feel you’ve accomplished everything you needed, it doesn’t mean the conversation stops there. Finances should be a frequent topic of conversation. Keep checking in on each other’s goals and reevaluating if needed. Once that habit’s created, there’s less of a need for the “formal” money dates in your calendar. You will notice the conversations start to happen frequently and naturally.
This extract has been edited for clarity and length.