Saying Goodbye to the Dream of Marriage as Income Boost

“Someday my second income will come…”

Snow White

Last month we looked at the idea that Millennial women were earning more than their male romantic partners:

When Millennial Women Earn More Than Their Male Partners

As Ashley C. Ford wrote, in the Refinery 29 article that inspired our discussion:

Like most relationships, the real problems are expectations and communication. The women most frustrated by their breadwinner status never considered it could happen, didn’t expect it to last, or can’t find a way to do things differently even when they want to.

This week, The Cut’s Money Mom counsels a Millennial woman who is earning more than her male partner and who wants to know if she should be doing things differently:

Is It Terrible to Want My Boyfriend to Make More Money?

In this case, the Millennial woman is an accountant who just paid off her student loans and the boyfriend is a PhD student who wants to teach music after graduation:

As they’re getting more serious, Jordan is starting to face the uncomfortable fact that she’s squeamish about his earning potential. She knows that this is unfair and even sexist, but when she’s honest with herself, she’s always envisioned a partner who’s her financial equal. Jordan has never planned to rely on a spouse financially, but she didn’t plan to be a breadwinner, either.

I’m really curious about this “PhD who wants to be a music teacher,” because something here doesn’t make sense. A PhD who wants to both research and teach music at the college level makes sense (and yes, I know that academic jobs are really hard to come by, but at least it’s the logical career path here). A PhD who wants to be a performing classical musician and teach music lessons as a way to earn extra income also makes sense, except for the part where the PhD isn’t the right degree for that—you want a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) if you’re interested in performance. A PhD is a research degree, so maybe this person wants to do independent music research while teaching music… is that a thing? It could be a thing.

(Or maybe this person did most of a PhD, realized they don’t want to do research or work in academia, and figured that they’ll finish the PhD and teach music because that’s what they know how to do. Except for the part where they still have to write a dissertation. Hmmmm. I’m probably overthinking this.)

Anyway, the boyf wants to teach music, and the girlf is thinking about whether she can achieve her financial goals if she’s got a low earner with (presumably) a lot of debt as her partner.

If I were giving advice, I would recommend that the girlfriend watch all three seasons of Mozart in the Jungle and then ask herself if she wants to sign up for that, because the show gives a romanticized, prestige-soap version of musicians’ lives and these characters are still driving for Uber while playing in the orchestra and teaching.

Or she could remind herself that a lot of people end up driving for Uber at some point—or the metaphorical equivalent thereof—and wanting a partner with higher earning potential doesn’t mean that her partner will be able to bring in those earnings long-term. She isn’t even guaranteed her own earnings trajectory; maybe all of the accountants will eventually be replaced by robots.

Or she could see if the boyfriend was interested in managing the household and potentially the parenting work, which would fit well with a part-time music teaching career.

The Cut’s Money Mom essentially says you have to talk to this guy, tell him what you want out of life and see if that’s what he wants too. Which is totally Standard Relationship Advice, and it makes sense: if these two people don’t have at least some shared values and goals, they shouldn’t date regardless of income levels.

But she also writes that it’s hard to let go of “the hope that their combined incomes would lead to bigger possibilities,” which I find really interesting, because… who hasn’t thought that, right? Someday my second income will come, as the song goes? Or is that mostly something that women think, because women have historically earned less than men? And now that women are earning more, they’re realizing that they’re not going to more-than-double their income after marriage?

Before you get all “those entitled women, wanting a man’s money,” remember that we’re barely forty years out from women not being allowed to have credit cards. (Yes, that was in 1974.) Women still take most of the income hits from parenting and caretaking and often quit their own jobs to care for others. Social conditioning runs deep, and not necessarily in parallel to socioeconomic change.

So. What do you think of all of this? Is “the hope that their combined incomes would lead to bigger possibilities” a predominantly female hope, or does it apply to all genders? Also, should this Millennial woman have a heart-to-heart with her boyfriend and see what he wants out of life?

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