There are more women making money than before — at least among certain segments of the population. Is that making us pickier?
Before we get into this, I need to acknowledge a couple of points of privilege here. First, this is a very heteronormative outlook and doesn't take into account different gender identities and sexual preferences. Next, this is a more middle class and upper-middle-class white view. It's important to acknowledge that poor and working-class women — and even more especially women of color — have been making money outside the home pretty much since forever.
Now, let's do this.
Apparently, Women are Pickier than Ever
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article looking at the widening gap in educational attainment between women and men. The idea is that this widening of educational attainment means that fewer men are considered desirable and attractive to women.
It’s always been assumed that women are more selective in seeking out a partner of the opposite sex. Men are notoriously undiscriminating; women, obviously more refined and sophisticated, are more choosy.
Now, though, women are even pickier as they look for men that have the same level of education as them, according to the article.
The WSJ article cites something called the Gini index, which takes a look at equality in terms of attractiveness. Basically, attractiveness is measured as if it's an economic asset and the result is that, “A much smaller number of men are considered eligible by women than is the case for women as viewed by men.”
Old tropes talk about the economic viability of men and whether they make enough money to provide.
Today, education and other qualities might be considered. And, with more women making money, income might not even be as important as other traits that make up attractiveness.
Women Don't Need Men for Financial Stability
For decades, white middle-class norms forced women to be financially dependent on their partners. I mean, it was difficult for a woman — even a working woman — to get her own credit card, FFS.
As recently as 2002, I was asked in a job interview why my husband wasn't looking for a job and why he was sending me out to do “his” role. Like, for real.
Was asked in an interview if I was. Then asked why they should hire me when it would take money away from a provider. Then asked why, if I was the provider, my husband wasn’t working. Living in Utah in 2002. Good times, good times.
— Miranda Marquit, #FightForFreelancers, MBA (@MMarquit) October 8, 2019
It's all rooted in the idea that women rely on men for financial stability. Get you a man who will take care of you — and stick with him. Because what are you going to do for money otherwise?
Today, though, with increasing numbers of women in the workforce, the need for men to provide financial stability isn't there. Women can provide their own financial stability, thankyouverymuch.
Three years ago, I was part of a panel on Debt Free Divas that talked about the pros and cons of marrying someone not making as much as you. It was a fun conversation, and we all agreed that income level probably isn't a big issue. But other things might be.
Perhaps it's not necessarily educational attainment — personally, it's no big deal to me if a dude isn't as educated as me. But maybe it's something else. Intelligence, humor, shared values, passion projects. The ability to take care of yourself and have hobbies and interests.
No matter what constitutes attractiveness to you, the good news is that money doesn't have to be the primary factor. The WSJ points out the trope that women have always been pickier than men when choosing their mates. However, the assumption is that now women can afford to be even pickier as long as financial stability is off the table.
How many women settled in the past because they needed financial stability?
Maybe Women Want Equal Partners
With women making money, does this also mean they can demand actual equal partners? Are men willing to split the at-home workload and let them, well, be themselves?
Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much things have changed in the six years since I wrote an article based on research indicating that when women make more money in a heterosexual marriage, it's more likely to fail.
Part of the problem? Women may like the idea of equal partners, but many men aren't into it. Because our society (in some places more than others) still connects an outside income with male success, it's hard to feel like a “proper” provider when your woman makes more than you.
With society so wrapped in your job-as-a-measure-of-worth, and that measure more applicable to men than women, it can weigh especially hard on men if their partner makes more than them.
It's ridiculous, but here we are.
I live in a very traditional community, where traditional genders and their roles are still very much a Thing. One way I used to weed out men for potential future dates was to offer to split on the first date, or, if they paid on the first date, offer to pay on our second date.
Men who insisted that they had to pay Every. Single. Time didn't get another date. I knew they couldn't handle the idea of me making the same amount of money as them — or making more.
My offer to pay made men uncomfortable. One even told me he was intimidated because he thought I was just as smart and capable as he was.
He was intimidated by the thought of having an equal partner. I can't even imagine how he'd feel if he encountered someone he thought was more capable.
What woman wants to pretend to be less than she is to stroke her man's ego? And why would she if she doesn't need him for financial stability?
Men Aren't Picking Up the Slack at Home
Women might want equal partners, but many men aren't certain they do. Plus, even when women make more, men aren't likely to pick up the slack at home.
See, one of the things I heard growing up was that if the man is making the money, it's only fair that the woman staying home do the bulk of the chores. And, indeed, when you look at historical trends, The Atlantic points out, when women are more economically dependent on men, the share they do of the housework goes up.
You'd think that would hold true the other way, right? The more money a woman brings in, the more equal the sharing of housework should be. Well, here's what The Atlantic points out about the actual reality of the situation:
But the more economically dependent men are on their wives, the less housework they do. Even women with unemployed husbands spend considerably more time on household chores than their spouses. In other words, women’s success in the workplace is penalized at home.
And before you #notallmen me, I know.
I'm aware that these are general trends and that many, many men are awesome stay at home parents. I know lots of hetero couples that have great partnerships. In my own marriage, my ex cooked, vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, did the laundry and went grocery shopping. He also took on the mental load when it came to entertaining others in our home.
But let's be real here. Our society is far from accepting true equality when it comes to divvying up household chores. And for men whose partners outearn them, it might feel like adding insult to injury to be expected to do “women's work” in the home when they don't have a job or they suffer the ego-blow that comes with earning less.
So maybe it's less about educational attainment and more about the fact that, while women want equal relationships, finding a partner who wants a truly egalitarian relationship is tough.
And settling doesn't feel necessary without the need for financial stability from a man.
Are More Women Acknowledging that Maybe Being Partnered Isn't Worth It?
And here comes the fun part. The WSJ article assumes that heterosexual women want to be partnered. Of course, plenty of people want to be partnered. That's fine. Nothing wrong with that.
But the assumption that there will be a lot of sad and lonely single ladies out there wishing they had a man might not be a truly accurate picture.
First of all, there's some pretty compelling research that most women are happier single.
I know something about me. I like being single. Did I have a bad marriage? No. My ex is a decent dude. We co-parent. Did I want to get divorced? Nope. But now that I'm divorced, I'm not interested in getting married again.
In a completely non-scientific and purely anecdotal way, I've spoken with several women, with and without kids, who find they like being single better.
And why not?
If you can afford to live on your own, do what you want, buy what you want and hire someone else to clean the house, why complicate the situation with a partner? While some with kids wish their exes had more of a 50/50 split when it comes to parenting, many of them wouldn't get married again.
When you can run your life as you wish — and you have the money to make it so — bringing in someone else can feel risky.
Of course, there are plenty who also wish they could find a partner “man enough” to evenly split the chores and not feel threatened that they are badasses when it comes to making their own money and handling their own shit.
But if they don't find that, they won't have to settle because they don't need a man to take care of the money stuff.
Money = Choices
For women making money, it really is about choices. When you make your own financial stability, there are more options available to you.
Partner with someone, or not. Live someplace where you can find more people who get your vibe. Get involved in the community. Do fun things with your kids.
While sometimes I feel like a few of my choices are limited by the things I chose in the past, by and large, I have a lot more options.
Because I am fortunate to work in a way that results in good, solid income.
I make my own money and can take care of myself and my son.
So, while I like men, and have relationships with them, I see no reason to marry one — or even to move in with one.
I can afford not to.