Looks like married couples are lying to the US Census about who earns more money

ShutterstockAre both men and women uncomfortable with the idea of women breadwinners?

  • Women breadwinners appear to make both men and women uncomfortable, according to Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times.
  • Miller cited findings from a new Census Bureau paper – husbands and wives are lying about who makes more money when the woman is the primary breadwinner in an opposite-sex household.
  • Gender attitudes and social norms don’t seem to keep up with the realities at work and home.

Are social attitudes behind the times at both work and at home?

That’s what Claire Cain Miller asks in a New York Times article, based on a finding in a new paper from the Census Bureau. The paper says that in American households with women breadwinners, both husbands and wives tend to lie about who makes more money, and by how much.

The paper compared the earnings reported to the census by respondents in opposite-sex marriages with what their employers reported in tax filings to the IRS. When women were the primary breadwinners, wives said they made 1.5% percentage points less than the salaries reported by their employers, while husbands said they took home 2.9% percentage points more than their employer-reported salaries, reported Miller, citing the Census Bureau paper.

The study looked at people in couples ranging from age 25 to 54, in which at least one spouse earned a paycheck. “Age and geography did not make a difference – couples in which the woman earned more were as common in liberal cities as in the conservative South,” writes Miller.

Gender attitudes and social norms are assumed to be at play here, whether consciously or subconsciously. Miller writes that the census researchers deduced that the concept of a male breadwinner was more “socially desirable” – an idea that has not kept up with the pace at which women are taking on the breadwinning role.

Breadwinning women are common, but still seem to be taboo

In roughly 25% of American couples, women outearn men, compared to 18% in the 1980s, reported Miller. That number gets even higher when you factor in couples with children under the age of 18 – 40% were headed by breadwinning women in 2013, four times higher than in 1960, Business Insider previously reported.

Farnoosh Torabi, financial expert and author of “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women,” previously told Business Insider that women breadwinners increase their chances of divorce in the context of nontraditional gender roles. She also told Business Insider they’re twice as likely as their husbands to make financial decisions for the household.

Take, for example, Liz Gendreau, who has been the primary breadwinner in her household for more than 16 years. While she and her husband are happy with their arrangement, in which she works as an IT program manager with a six-figure salary and he works as a stay-at-home dad, she’s felt the effects of social stereotypes from others who find her situation confusing, she explained in an article for Business Insider.

“Talking about having a wife who stays at home is very much culturally acceptable, but people are uncomfortable talking about a husband who’s at home,” she said. “I’m sometimes made to feel as if I should be embarrassed that my husband stays at home, or as though it’s something I shouldn’t really talk about.”

She added that she’s heard many stories about men being ashamed and resentful of their wives for paying for everything – feelings that may not be unrelated to the data the Census found.

“It shows just how sticky gender roles can be – and how much slower they are to change than the way people live their lives,” writes Miller. “Women are now much more likely to have an education and a career. Yet across most marriages, they still do much more child care and housework than their husbands, and men still feel strong pressure to be the family breadwinner.”

Torabi, the author of “When She Makes More,” previously gave Business Insider some advice for breadwinning women: “enlist help and support and accountability from your partner.”

She told Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback: “I find that in marriages where breadwinning women are really thriving with their partners … they actually team up with their husbands. I find that we forget we are in a partnership and this person sitting next to you wants nothing more than to support you.”

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