When wives bring in more bacon than their husbands, both spouses have a hard time admitting it—to the point of fudging the truth. That’s the finding of a new US Census Bureau report appropriately titled “Manning Up and Womaning Down.”

How did Census researchers find the fudge? They compared data from census surveys to each spouse’s actual wage and salary income reported to the IRS.

Result: In surveys, men on average said that they earned 2.9 percentage points more than they actually did, while women said they earned 1.5 percentage points less than they actually did.

It didn’t matter whether it was the woman or the man who filled in the census survey (typically completed by only one household member). Men tended to report their own earnings more accurately than their wives did, and women were more accurate about their own earnings. But both husbands and wives may have been trying to accomplish the same goal: minimizing the earnings gap to more closely conform to the traditional societal norm of man earns more, woman earns less.

This survey was about numbers, not emotions, but one explanation for the discrepancy is that even today, in the second decade of the 21st century, neither men nor women are particularly comfortable with what the researchers called economically “nontraditional” marriages.

Economic Pioneers in Love

Is this a problem? Well, if one goal of marriage is that it be a relationship in which both partners are comfortable in their skins and mutually happy with each other’s successes—then, yes, it is. If you are in a marriage in which you earn more than your husband or your wife earns more than you, here are suggestions that may help strengthen your bond…

Remind yourselves that you are trailblazers. Three decades ago, only 18% of married women in the US earned more than their husbands. Today, 29% do. So the norm is changing, but changing slowly, and a marriage in which the wife earns more is still an exception. You may have had no role models in life for that—so number one, don’t feel guilty about feeling a little uneasy about it, and number two, feel free to develop your own perspective that honors the contributions of both spouses.

Make “We’re in this together” your mantra. If both of you are working and earning a salary, time management is likely your biggest problem. One big source of stress: In most marriages, women still do a larger share of the child care and housework than men do—and according to 2013 research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, that share grows when the woman is the primary breadwinner! The motivation may be to make their husbands less uncomfortable with the family’s income disparity.

Want to untwist this weird situation? One great way to start is the Bottom Line article, “Don’t Let Financial Fights Ruin Your Marriage.” Tips…

Sit down and develop a strategy together to make the household run smoothly, ensure the kids (if you have any) are taken care of and ensure the chores get done. Divvy things up in a way that feels fair to you both—your partner is your ally, not your adversary. Who-earns-what is less important than we-work-together for family happiness.

Talk, talk, talk…and talk some more. Since you’re making it up as you go along, if the going gets rough, the only way to get through it together is to keep the lines of communication open. Keep honestly sharing your feelings, even the uncomfortable ones.

Talk about finances, too. To make sure money doesn’t wreck your marriage, discuss your goals, needs, expectations and decision-making process. Who will handle the bills? How will you share big financial decisions—buying a house, moving, paying for college? As you probably have already discovered—although, maybe not—discussions about money can easily lead to discussions about deep emotional issues. If emotions run high, you may want to call a time-out and return to a topic later.

Get help. It’s no secret that all sorts of money issues—not just a lack of money, but what to do with the money you have—are a common cause of disagreement and unhappiness in marriages. If you find you are arguing more and increasingly blaming your partner, seek out a licensed counselor who can help you both sort things out before too much damage is done.


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