According to a recent report from the United States Census Bureau, most people believe it’s “socially desirable” for the husband to earn more than his wife.
In fact, in the event that a wife does earn more than her husband, researchers discovered that couples tend to downplay or under report the financial difference.
Obviously, there’s a lot of history, tradition and even controversy surrounding this topic. For instance, the issue of pay equity is hotly debated and often comes up in the midst of political campaigns.
Historically speaking, husbands and wives have always partnered together to provide for the needs of the home and the family. In the United States, men traditionally have been the primary “breadwinner,” though that is certainly changing.
Regardless, I think it’s important to underscore the point that both men and women have always “worked”—be it inside the home or out, for money or for no pay at all. In fact, according to one recent survey, stay-at-home moms are worth, on average, $162,581 a year. That figure is calculated by adding up all their responsibilities and putting a fair-market value on them should you try and hire all those tasks out in the private sector.
When you come right down to it, I’d tell you that my wife, Jean’s, contributions to our household are worth far more than that—but you get the point.
At the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the Bible provides guidance concerning the distinct roles that husbands and wives play in a marriage. The apostle Paul wrote that the husband holds a high responsibility when it comes to earning for his family:
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
Conversely, common sense suggests, and I believe the Scriptures confirm, that women generally are naturally gifted as nurturers and caregivers. We all know that mothers provide unique comfort and counsel that fathers cannot.
All of this is not to say women shouldn’t work outside the home. It is not my place—or yours—to question God’s call on someone’s life. Moreover, women bring unique contributions to the workplace. From the perspective of Focus on the Family, we are an infinitely better organization for all that has been invested in this ministry by thousands of my female colleagues, past and present.
I am also aware that circumstances sometimes require husbands and wives to assume responsibilities they may not have planned. Death, divorce, injury or even a season of unemployment can force roles and situations to be upended.
But getting back to the original question—does it matter if a wife earns more than her husband? My wife has a degree in bio-chemistry and could very easily be employed at a top research facility. At this time, however, she’s decided that she can make the greatest contribution by investing in our boys at home until they leave for college.
Nevertheless, if you ask me, given her responsibilities and tasks with two teenage boys, she’s already worth far more than I earn—and I’m eternally grateful she’s willing to do it.
What about you? Does it matter who earns more in a family?