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The Good Wife?
[November 22, 2012]

The Good Wife?

Nov 23, 2012 (Khaleej Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- As market economics go the unpredictable way and money matters get more complicated, shouldn--t men be plain grateful if their wives earn more than them and contribute generously to the family kitty Well, yes and no...

We may be tom-tomming the obvious with this one, but what happens when a wife earns more than her husband In modern day economies and marriages, this is no longer an exception, but not the norm either. And unlike countries like the US, where up to 40 per cent of working women are reported to earn more than their husbands, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the Middle East has yet to catch up on that statistic.

However, given the sheer number of dual-income families and upwardly mobile women at the workplace who are breaking through all sorts of glass ceilings, is anyone really surprised these days if the lady of the house brings in more moolah than the hubby And really, how many stay-at-home wives do we know these days anyway, compared to the number who are employed We aren't exactly crunching the figures on how many women earn more than their spouses, or by how much even. But we set out to delve into the professional and financial arrangements between a smattering of working couples here, in the UAE, and what that means for the family unit, its societal ramifications and then, that big "oh" -- the male ego.

Man is a social animal and all that. So what are the implications when the wife challenges -- by choice or circumstance -- the man's traditional familial role of sole or primary breadwinner REALITY BITES In the UAE, specifically, most women who earn more than their other half are often expatriates who've moved here for better career prospects, with the husband then choosing to follow suit. This usually means two things for him: he understands that the wife's brand new job and career over here is a good thing; and, he can follow her and look for employment himself. This arrangement seems to work out fine with most couples.

Fatima Maria Neto is a Portuguese national who moved here over six years ago. Plagued by financial troubles after the recession hit Europe, and a failing personal business which ate up most of her joint savings with husband Fernando, she got a new start in retail fashion brand management in Abu Dhabi. Fernando, who works in construction, followed her here, but found a permanent job of his choice only after a few temporary positions. "It was ironic, bec-ause he has lots of experience back home. We were used to a certain standard of living back there, and it was a whole year before we were able to settle down here," says Fatima.

Married for 20 years, Fatima earns more than her husband, and that has always been the case, since the time they started dating, they say. "It's bec-ause I have a degree and he doesn't. But it has never affected our relationship. Mutual respect is more important in a marriage, over things like who makes more. Although I may be the primary breadwinner, he is much more knowledgeable and practical in matters of money management," says Fatima.

The hubby is the primary money manager -- for both their incomes and expenses. "We have a common bank account now, but I spend a whole lot more, as I'm a near compulsive shopper; while Fernando does not curtail me from spending, he keeps a close watch," says Fatima.

Psychologist Speak: Dr Lavina Ahuja, a counselling psychologist with Life Works Dubai, says, "Among the couples I have counselled where the wife has earned more, that was never the main cause of discord. Rather, differences cropped up over issues like lack of communication, childcare issues, or even the practical issues of one of them quitting to stay home and take care of the kids.

"If the woman earns more, it does not mean she has more of a head for finan-ces. Discussing money in a marriage is very important; I won't say it can make or break a marriage, but money is seen as equal to power, and no one in the relationship wants to feel powerless." JOINT ACCOUNTS Richa and Varun Parakkal -- marketing manager and project engineer, respectively -- are a young, newly-married couple in their twenties. Having known each other for many years, they've jointly managed their finances for some time, aiming to save jointly for big budget expenses like the wedding, and now, a home of their own. "He has always been the money manager. Though I earn more than him as of now, it's been clear from the beginning that he handles all the cerebral aspects of money management for both of us," says Richa.

"I did feel a twinge of guilt at my bigger pay package... but he urged me take up the job, and made me realise how trivial these worries were. It's nice to know that he weighs my career as much as his." As the couples seem to point out, the fact that the wife is currently earning more is no indication of the regular economic state or arrangement of the marriage in general. "It's by circumstance, not design," say Fatima and Fernando.

Psychologist Speak: "If you see a couple that don't have issues when the wife earns more, it's because even when the husband may be less qualified than her, she has chosen him for his emotional intelligence, and they have an equal partnership. They are likely to have discussed and planned their financial arrangements very early on in the relationship," says Dr. Ahuja.

BITTER BREAK-UPS Usually, the more money a couple earn, the happier they should be, as it contributes to the family kitty. On the other end of the spectrum, we came across Edna and Jason*, a Dubai-based Filipino couple who definitely felt the strain of her substantial income on their marriage. Edna, a model, takes home much more than her supermarket sales assistant husband Jason.

Today, the couple lives apart and fail to see eye to eye. "We moved here five years ago to make a better life for ourselves, so it should not have really mattered if I earn more, but eventually, it drew us apart. We're working on our relationship, but it's really tough going with our conflicting timings, schedules and the fact that we don't live together anymore," said Edna.

Jason, on his part, says, "It got to a point where our mutual friends were sniggering that I earned less, and have a far less glamorous job than she does. While we love each other, I think there are some things a couple has to agree on, and the man has to be the provider and protector in the marriage." Is there a reconciliation on the cards Neither wanted to commit.

Psychologist Speak: Says Dr Ahuja, "We think it's the male ego that plays up when the wife becomes the primary provider, but it's more about gender roles and how we define and subscribe to them. A man would be threatened if he thinks his role in the relationship is being usurped... In collectivist cultures -- like Asian ones -- gender roles tend to be more fixed." HUSBANDING TRUTHS But many times, notions of men feeling any less manly when the wife earns more no longer holds true, with traditional gender roles getting tossed around, and the general economic crises of recent years putting many men out of work. "It's a function of modern life," says Fernando Neto. "Men brought up in more traditional cultures or backgrounds could see such a thing as equivalent to feeling emasculated, but most men today have a broadminded app-roach to it. You need two incomes anyway, these days." "It's only men who don't have much exposure or are brought up in male-dominated set-ups who would have problems with their wives earning more," say Richa and Varun. They are emphatic that a fatter paycheck has nothing to do with the individual capabilities of the person. "Certain industries pay more, and also offer more opp-ortunities to jump jobs and rise rapidly in the hierarchy." Varun does point out that "not all men might be okay with accepting their wives earning more. If the woman is able to balance her career and family life together, it's perfectly fine. I have never had any issues in the past, and never will in the future, but provided family comes first to her." Psychologist Speak: Says Dr Ahuja, "Here, they both take the effort to communicate, be responsible and reach a compromise. It's not about one partner 'winning' and the other 'losing'." RECESSION OF OPINIONS Karthik Prasannan and Sindhu Menon are a long-distance couple. They've been married for two years, but her post-doctoral research in Germany and his job as a sales manager for an electronics security firm in Dubai, keeps them apart. According to Karthik, "The attitude to this issue has changed post-recession in the UAE. I know many guys who lost their jobs, and for a long while, the wives supported the whole family -- now men realise how important it is for their wives to hold good jobs. The crisis was actually an eye opener.

"I don't have any issues with the fact that Sindhu's research stipend amounts to more than my salary, nor do I think would the other men I know. But in the long term, there's no telling... Another friend, in the US has got his wife --who has a medical degree -- sitting at home, because he doesn't want her to work!" Psychologist Speak: Dr Ahuja says, "There are certain things couples do that are maladaptive, like worrying about society's perception about them. In general, one partner may be generally more easygoing, but again, it boils down to the idea of roles and responsibilities in a relationship. Look at how family duties can be redistributed, so that both partners feel important." (*Some names in the article have been changed to protect privacy.) All the single laddies* We checked out what a smattering of single men had to say on the topic, assuming their future wives earned more than them! Deepak -- It's not an ego issue for me if my wife earns more, but I do think she would tend to feel more important and greater than me. It's actually quite subjective.

Alec -- Who's to complain if there's more money coming in, but if she earned substantially more, it would be more difficult for me to accept it.

Vinod -- I don't think money is an issue, unless there's an ego clash, or unless I borrow or use my wife's money, or say, spend her earnings on the rest of my family, like my parents or siblings.

Jonathan --This is something I'd be sure to discuss with my future wife before we get married; money and children always need to be sorted out before you enter into a relationship.

___ (c)2012 the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) Visit the Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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