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How Do Men Feel About Dating a Woman Who Makes More Money?

Romancing a breadwinner.

Key points

  • Masculinity ideology depends on a man's internalization or acceptance of a culture's definition of masculinity.
  • The breadwinning role for men stems from "institutionalized rules for gendered marital behavior."
  • The association between masculinity ideology and relationship quality depends on the view of income disparity.
DanaTentis on Pixabay
Source: DanaTentis on Pixabay

Traditionally, within heterosexual relationships, men were the breadwinners. The man brought home the bacon; his wife raised their children.

Movies, television programming, and all forms of advertising incorporated this version of the family structure. Times have changed. But have men’s feelings about the evolving division of labor? Research provides some interesting insight.

Power Dynamics

Imagine observing a couple out to dinner at a restaurant. When the check comes after the meal, you watch the server present it to the man, who points at his female companion as the one who will take care of the bill.

She reaches for her wallet without missing a beat. The interaction, emotion, demeanor, and body language of this exchange probably reveal the extent to which this couple is comfortable with the relational division of responsibility. Specifically, you may see a couple in which the woman pays the bills.

But how does this dynamic affect their romantic relationship—if it does? Did the woman’s husband have to ask her permission to order an expensive item on the menu or for an extra glass of wine? Does he ask for shopping money, or does she give him an allowance? Or is it degrading to either spouse to ever be in the position of having to ask such questions? Research reveals some answers.

Masculine Ideology, Feminine Income

Patrick Coughlin and Jay C. Wade (2012) studied the relational dynamics and quality within unions where men dated women who made more money.i They specifically investigated relationship quality within heterosexual romantic relationships where the man is not the traditional “breadwinner.”

They recognized that the breadwinner role for men is in line with “institutionalized rules for gendered marital behavior” and supports the power and authority of the husband within the family unit. Accordingly, they acknowledged that it would be reasonable for a man who earns less than his spouse to perceive a void as a result of being removed from this traditional gender role, which they note is supported by the link between breadwinning and masculinity.

With specific regard to well-being, they noted that men’s psychological well-being decreases when they are married to wives who make more money and thus are greater contributors to the total family income.

Coughlin and Wade also discussed masculinity ideology, defined as “men’s acceptance or internalization of a culture’s definition of masculinity, and beliefs about adherence to culturally defined standards of male behavior.” They found that the association between masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality was partly based on the perceived significance of income disparity.

They found specifically that men with a more traditional masculinity ideology involved with women who earned more money were more likely to have lower-quality relationships due to the importance that such men placed on the income disparity.

Conversely, they found that men with more nontraditional masculinity were more likely to dismiss income disparity as a relational factor with little or no importance while enjoying high romantic relationship quality.

More recently, Hania Fei Wu (2021) studied the link between relative income status within marriage and well-being ii and found that for both genders, husbands making more than wives raised life satisfaction.

She noted that the beneficiary effect is most noticeable within families who are of medium economic status, while that “the happiness penalty” of wives who have higher incomes appears to be a universal phenomenon within families of all financial conditions. As with prior research, Wu recognized the impact of gendered income inequality and the role of gender ideology.

We Have Come a Long Way, Baby

The takeaway appears to be that times have changed, and so have traditional views of relational roles and responsibilities. Contemporary women hold many jobs that were traditionally filled by men and sometimes, accordingly, make more money than their partners.

Within relationships, however, quality depends on priorities. Couples who focus on trust, love, and respect are happier than those who focus on typecast roles and stereotypes.

Money cannot buy love, regardless of who brings it home.


[i] Coughlin, Patrick, and Jay C. Wade. 2012. “Masculinity Ideology, Income Disparity, and Romantic Relationship Quality among Men with Higher Earning Female Partners.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 67 (5–6): 311–22. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0187-6.

[ii] Wu, Hania Fei. “Relative Income Status within Marriage and Subjective Well-Being in China: Evidence from Observational and Quasi-Experimental Data.” Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being 22, no. 1 (January 2021): 447–66. doi:10.1007/s10902-020-00237-5.

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