Financial Pressure & Benefits of Being a Breadwinning Woman


In today’s world, there’s a lot of pressure on women to succeed both in the workplace and at home. Yet, when people think of a household with dual-income, people often think of the man in a relationship being the family’s primary breadwinner. A breadwinning woman has a varied of different financial pressures and benefits that come with it.

It’s an old-school idea, but the outdated concept of who can be financially successful in a marriage (and who stays home) is still prevalent in our society. However, this idea isn’t always reality. 

The truth is that, as of 2016, women outearn their male partners in 29% of American heterosexual dual-income marriages – up from 18% in 1987. Other studies indicate that those numbers might be even bigger – that 4 out of 10 households are financially led by women

More and more women are starting to outearn their male partners, and I work with several families who are falling into this earning category. In fact, in my own family, I’m the breadwinner. With this much first-hand exposure to women who are taking the financial lead in their families, I’ve seen the benefits of this dynamic first hand. However, I’ve also seen the stress and anxiety it can cause if both partners aren’t dedicated to supporting one another. 

Today, I want to talk about the experience of being a breadwinning woman – from the unexpected stresses, to how my family and others make this dynamic work. 

My Own Experience

For many years, my husband and I have been in a dual-income household. There were years when he was the primary breadwinner and recently we went through a stint where I was the sole provider. As of now, we’re back to being a dual-income household with me as the breadwinner while both of us work to develop our careers in new and exciting ways. 

There have been so many benefits to me being the breadwinner for our family – both when my husband was working, and when I was the sole provider. However, there have also been several unexpected drawbacks that I couldn’t have anticipated. 

The Pressure of Being a Breadwinning Woman

I should start by saying that my husband is always my #1 fan, and I’ve never made a career move that wasn’t supported 100% by him. I’ve also always been a proud, strong woman who has never been afraid to grow in my career. So, I was surprised when I felt a new kind of pressure stepping into a breadwinning woman role. In the back of my mind, there was a worry that people would judge how my husband and I chose to run our family. 

That’s because, even for someone who is as confident as I am, the pressures of our culture can eat away at anybody’s self-worth. Female breadwinners often are judged for whether or not they’re being a good enough mom, how they run their household, or what role they take on in their community. Male breadwinners are often viewed as responsible and as strong leaders in the workplace, while female breadwinners can be viewed as too aggressive. The hypocrisy is endless, and it can be overwhelming at times. 

The Financial (And Non-Financial) Considerations For Being a Breadwinning Woman

Beyond just the cultural stress and judgment that may accompany being a breadwinning woman, there are other pros and cons to consider. 

The Earning Gap

First and foremost, it’s important that we address the gender pay gap. In 2019, women only make $0.79 for every $1.00 that men make. 

Even if you’re the breadwinner in your family, and you and your partner are secure financially, it may feel like you’re hustling 10x harder to make the same amount that your male colleagues are bringing home. This can cause extra stress. 

Advocating for yourself in the workplace to continue to earn what you’re worth is a critical part of supporting your family financially, and continuing to increase your net worth.

Planning For Retirement

Another financial consideration is the longer lifespan that women often have. Whether you’re the breadwinner or not, it’s still important to think about how you’ll be financially supported should you outlive your partner. If you’re the primary income earner, you may be taking the lead on funding your savings goals – from building your emergency fund, to contributing to your retirement accounts.

Regardless of whether you or your partner earn more, a savings plan should be put in place to support both of you throughout your years as a retiree. Even if that financial stressor seems like it’s in the distant future, it’s worth the conversation with your partner. Take the time to determine what you’ll both need in retirement, and put a savings plan in place that protects each of you. 

Pressure In The Workplace

If you’re the breadwinner in your household, you might find a unique kind of pressure to continue providing for your family while still upholding a spotless reputation at work, and pushing to continue your career growth. It can be a lot of unexpected anxiety. Communication in your relationship, and in the workplace, can help to combat this. Worrying about whether or not you’re knocking it out of the park at work is normal, but if you’re feeling extreme pressure and anxiety to be perfect 100% of the time, it might be time to speak up and ask for support.

Being a Breadwinning Woman Works For My Family – And It Can Work For Yours

Despite the pressures of being a breadwinning woman, there are also many benefits. It’s worked for my family for years – and it can work for yours too. The key is to communicate clearly and often with your partner. Approaching decisions in your relationship, financial and otherwise, should be done together as a team. Here are a few ways you and your partner can find success as a family with you as the breadwinning woman:

#1: Understanding your own anxiety about being a breadwinning woman. The more you’re able to be honest with yourself and your partner about how you’re feeling and the stories or money scripts that may be playing in your mind, the less anxious or frustrated you’re going to feel. Don’t shy away from being introspective!

#2: Remember that you two define your roles in your family – nobody else. For example, having spent a period of time as the sole income earner, my husband took the lead on day-to-day parenting, time with our kids, and managing the household (a full-time job in itself). During this season I was growing Workable Wealth, investing time in my team, and expanding my personal finance educational platform. It helped tremendously to know that we had decided on these roles as a team, and that we were each contributing to our family’s success.

#3: Approach your financial plan together. By approaching your life and your family’s money as a team, you remove a significant amount of stress each of you can feel when being the primary provider. You’re also able to make ongoing decisions for the greater good of your team, without feeling frustrated with one another. 

#4: Get real about the division of labor. As the primary income earner in your house, there might not be time to crush it at work and keep your home life in perfect shape. Sit down with your partner to figure out who’s taking the lead on what household chores, or other family responsibilities and what you can outsource. Do you need a housecleaner, someone to help with laundry or meal prep? Be as specific as possible and delegate out if it’s within your means. The more clear you both are on how you’re working together and where you need help, the less likely you are to feel responsible for everything. 

#5: Set clear boundaries. It’s important to set boundaries both at work and with people in your personal life. This might mean you leave your phone on the kitchen counter in the evenings to avoid late-night checking your email. It might mean politely declining to talk about your family’s financial decisions with your friends or prying mother in law. You get to set boundaries with yourself and others to live your best life and protect your family. 

Being a breadwinning woman can be tough, even with the most supportive partner. The most important thing is that the two of you are making the best possible decision for your family as a team. All of the pressures you might face are so much easier when you face them together! 

Do you have questions about navigating financial roles in your relationship? Need help building a financial plan that supports both you and your partner during a season when you’re the family breadwinner? Let’s talk! Contact me today to learn more about working together.

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® is an author, speaker, and financial coach who takes a fun, no-nonsense approach in working with individuals and couples across the country, helping them make smart choices with their money.

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