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March 30, 2021

Study: 'substantially higher risk of divorce' when wife earns more than husband

There’s a scene in Up in the Air, last year’s should’ve-been-Best Picture, where Vera Farmiga is counselling a younger woman in crisis over her future love life.

At one point, cataloguing what she’d look for herself, Farmiga notes, “Please, let him earn more money than I do. You might not understand that now but, believe me, you will one day. Otherwise, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

She may have been speaking freely – or, perhaps more accurately, reading from Jason Reitman’s script – but a recently uncovered German study makes the 36-year-old’s words ring more true than ever.

According to IZA, the Institute for the Study of Labour, the problems caused by a woman earning more money than her husband are no longer up for debate. They’re rooted in fact.

In a study of West German couples, IZA concluded that marriages featuring a wife as the chief breadwinner have a “substantially higher risk of divorce” than if the roles were reversed.

“In contrast,” the report continues, “if the husband (earns more than the wife), marital stability is even enhanced.

Don’t bother reading the whole study – it’s an 18-page PDF and doesn’t exactly keep you on edge like the Da Vinci Code  – but there are two key phrases within the report that seem to suggest much more than they actually say:

1) “The husband’s self-esteem might be adversely affected by (his wife’s) economic success.”  Not a real surprise here, but never – despite any candid talk at the coffee shop or wherever – has a so-called academic source hinted that a man’s ego can’t handle his significant other earning more than him. This might not seem like rocket science, but it’s in stark contrast to this next proposal …

2) “Given that about 2/3 of divorces in Germany are initiated by women, one could think that financial independence is a necessary precondition for her to do so.”  Consider, for a second, what this statement means. Not only does it suggest a woman with cash is more likely to leave her husband, but that more women in all marriages would likely seek divorce if they could afford it. The report makes us believe that even in traditional relationships where a woman earns less than the man, such women would seek divorce on a much more accelerated scale if their financial means allowed them to do so.

Agree? Disagree?

In any case, this German report doesn’t appear much good for men. If, as the above study tell us, it’s imperative they earn more than their wives to have a successful relationship, this isn’t the best time for love.

As the New York Times points out, the “Mancession” is among us.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...