Imagine this: you’re out on a date with your girlfriend, and the check comes. She insists on picking up the tab, and you don’t put up too much of a fight because, hey, why not let her treat you for once? But then you remember that she makes much more money than you.
A) Accept graciously and try not to think about it too much
B) Feel a bit emasculated and wonder if she’s secretly laughing at you
C) Get angry and start an argument about who should be paying
If you chose B or C, you’re not alone. A lot of men feel uneasy when their partner earns more money than they do.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be a big deal. With the right approach and attitude, you can easily overcome any feelings of insecurity and build a healthy, happy relationship.
A history of the wage gap
The gender wage gap is a longstanding issue that has been around for centuries. Though the precise origins are unknown, it’s safe to say that women have almost always been paid less than men for doing the same work.
The wage gap became a political issue in the United States in the 1860s as part of the Equal Pay for Equal Work movement. Some of the most vocal advocates for equal pay were women’s rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
In their newspaper—The Revolution—as well as other works, they argued strongly for bridging the wage gap between men and women. Thanks to their efforts—and the efforts of many others—women eventually won the right to vote in the United States with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.
Despite this victory, the wage gap persisted.
Three decades later (1963), the Equal Pay Act was passed as an attempt to address the inequity on a national level. The act made it illegal for employers to pay male and female workers different wages for jobs that required equal skill, effort, and responsibility.
The act did allow for some exceptions, however, such as pay structures based on merit or seniority.
When signing the Equal Pay Act into law, then-President John F. Kennedy commented on the “unconscionable practice” of men and women being paid different wages for the same work. He went on to cite a statistic that the average woman worker only earned 60% of the average wage for men.
While the Equal Pay Act was a step in the right direction, it didn’t completely eliminate the gender wage gap.
Why the wage gap is slowly starting to shrink
In the decades since the Equal Pay Act was passed, the gender wage gap has slowly started to close. According to the U.S Census Bureau, women’s earnings increased from 60% of men’s in 1960 to 83% in 2020. The report also showed that, on average, women earn about $10,000 less than men per year.
Since 2000, women’s full-time earnings have increased at a faster rate than men’s. In 2000, the median income for full-time female workers was $40,156 per year. But by 2020, that number had risen to $50,982. For full-time male workers, the median income was $54,471 in 2000 and $61,417 in 2020.
So, why the change in women’s pay?
1. More women are getting college degrees
In the past, women were less likely to go to college than men. But nowadays, women are just as likely—if not more likely—to get a college degree.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women made up 57% (9.4 million students) of total college enrollment, compared to 43% (7.1 million students) for men, in 2019.
As more and more women get college degrees, they are better equipped to compete for high-paying jobs.
2. More women are joining the workforce
Before the mid-twentieth century, it was uncommon for women to work outside the home. But as the time went on, more women joined the workforce.
In 1950, only about 33.9% of women were in the labor force. But by 2019, that number had increased to nearly 60%.
3. More women are working in high-paying industries
Traditionally, women were concentrated in low-paying jobs, such as secretarial work and teaching. But today, we see women working in various industries, including some typically male-dominated, such as medicine and law.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), women made up a little over half (50.5%) of all medical students in 2019. And according to the American Bar Association (ABA), women made up nearly 53.3% of all law students that same year.
More women in the workforce is something to celebrate; still, breaking down previously formed expectations about who the breadwinner is can be tricky.
7 ways to make it work if your girlfriend makes more money than you
1. Acknowledge the financial disparity in your relationship
Start by acknowledging that there’s a financial disparity in your relationship. You may feel like you need to apologize for making less money than your partner but instead, have a conversation about your respective financial situations and what it means for your relationship.
Be honest about your feelings and open to hearing your partner’s perspective. They may feel just as awkward about the situation as you do. And they may be worried about your disposition towards their financial success.
If you can have a calm and honest conversation about your respective finances, it will be easier to move forward and make a plan that works for both of you.
2. Be honest about your insecurity
It’s okay to be insecure about making less money than your partner. In fact, it’s perfectly normal. You just need to be honest about your feelings.
Your partner can’t read your mind, so if you’re feeling insecure or jealous, tell them. Your partner may be surprised to hear how you’re feeling, but they’ll appreciate your honesty.
It’s also important to remember that your partner may be thinking about the situation, too. So, be understanding and try to see things from their perspective.
3. Avoid comparing your salaries
One of the worst things you can do is compare your salaries. It’s not productive, and it will only make you feel worse.
Instead of comparing your salaries, focus on what you each bring to the table. You may not make as much money as your partner, but chances are that you have other skills and attributes that are valuable to the relationship.
For example, you may be a great listener or a fantastic cook. Whatever your strengths are, use them to your advantage.
4. Split the bill
As long as you’re both comfortable with it, splitting the bill is a great way to even out the financial disparity in your relationship.
Let’s say you go out to dinner, and the bill comes to $100. You could each pay $50 or split it based on your respective salaries. So, if you make $60,000 a year and your partner makes $100,000 a year, you would pay $35, and they would pay $65.
It may not seem like a big deal, but it can make a world of difference over time. And it’s a great way to show your partner that you’re not sensitive about the fact that they make more money than you.
5. Don’t let money be the only thing you talk about
Money shouldn’t be the only thing you talk about in your relationship. If it is, you’re in for a long and difficult road ahead. Instead, try to focus on other aspects.
Talk about your dreams, your hopes, and your fears. Share your sense of humor and your love for adventure. Get to know each other on a deeper level, and you’ll find that the financial disparity in your relationship isn’t as big of a deal as you thought it was.
6. Live within your means
To make things work, you need to live within your means. That means being mindful of your spending and not trying to keep up with your partner’s lifestyle.
It’s okay to have different lifestyles. In fact, it can be a good thing. It gives you the opportunity to learn from each other and to grow as individuals. Live within your means and learn what it takes to be content with what you have.
7. Have joint and separate accounts
You don’t have to put all of your money into a joint account. Chances are, you and your partner will have different spending habits. So, it makes sense to have both joint and separate accounts.
With a joint account, you can cover shared expenses like rent, groceries, and utilities. And with separate accounts, you can each spend your money as you see fit.
This arrangement may help alleviate some of the financial pressure in your relationship. And it will give you both the freedom to spend your money as you please.
8. Seek professional help
If you still feel stuck or you’re struggling to make your relationship work, seek professional help. A financial therapist or counselor can help you and your partner navigate the complicated waters of money and relationships. They can help you communicate better, set boundaries, and find common ground.
Whatever the case—jealousy, insecurity, or simply different spending habits—don’t be afraid to seek professional help. It could be the best thing you ever do for your relationship.
9. Be patient
Last but not least, be patient. It takes time to adjust to a new relationship dynamic. And it’s going to take time for you to get used to the fact that your partner makes more money than you.
So, be patient and give it time. The more you work at it, the easier it will become. And eventually, you’ll find that the financial disparity in your relationship is no longer a big deal.
Are you less of a man if you earn less than your partner?
Of course not. Your worth as a man has nothing to do with how much you earn.
Your partner’s salary doesn’t define you or your worth. So, don’t let it impact how you see yourself. Remember that you’re a unique individual with your own strengths, weaknesses, and talents. Those are the things that make you special—not your salary.
Think about it this way: If your partner suddenly lost their job, would you still love and respect them? Yes? Then their salary doesn’t define them—and it shouldn’t define you either.
The bottom line is this:
You’re not less of a man because your partner makes more money than you. So, don’t let the financial disparity in your relationship get you down. Be patient, be understanding, and be yourself. The rest will fall into place.
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