Mariam, a mother of two is preparing to leave the house for work but she has to drop her seven-year-old at school first.
Her husband, an accountant in a city firm also wants to get to work and since they have to use the same family car, a debate is raging as to who should be considered for the first drop.
For starters, Brian, Mariam’s husband is a respected 30-year-old professional who not only is proud of his profession but also of his high standing in society as someone who has made it in life.
Since his PR wife is also prominent both in their estate activities and also around her circles, the dilemma has been on who stands out as the ‘head’ of the family.
The truth is, Miriam earns more than Brian. The family car they use is more or less from her savings. Her husband sorts the rent and school fees deals while she takes care of the rest of the family’s financial needs.
During the weekends, Brian travels upcountry where they have a farm. This is where the extra financial assistance comes from.
He sells chicken and rabbits but still, even with this, he cannot match Miriam’s side hustle which is lecturing university students on Saturdays, a job that earns her Sh70,000 per lecture.
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Brian has been finding it hard to explain to his boys why he does not use the family car. Of course, with their daughter being dropped at school and Miriam driving in the opposite direction to work, Brian has to use public transport to work. His friends think he is not a real man.
“I respect my wife and do respect our children. I do not see how my wife can take public transport yet I am in a car, driving comfortably to work. Our family car is a resource for the family. It is good that she has it as she is the one who is in touch with family needs, which include medical emergencies. Honesty, I have been getting so many questions from my boys as to why I am not the one who uses the family car. Many people indeed think that my wife is the one running the family,” says Brian.
Likewise, John, a community service worker is married to Esther, a principal in one of the leading private secondary schools. When they started, Esther was still undergoing her college education.
Now, her monthly salary is Sh230,000 while her husband earns Sh80,000 for his position as a facilitator at the NGO he works for. Esther is paying more bills than John.
One month ago, through their Sacco, Esther purchased land at a prime place and now, the discussion in the family is that they build their residential house there. John has no capital for this. Esther does.
With all the affirmative and women empowerment talk as well as a change in career lifestyle where more women are getting empowered, men are finding it hard to keep up with women in terms of their financial abilities. Some are getting insecure as women push the envelope demanding that their men up their game.
Well, a lot of men worldwide, earn more than women - that is a hard fact. According to the UN, globally, women only make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
However, while they predict that it may take up to 2069 to achieve equal pay, this narrative is slowly shifting, with more women getting educated to higher levels and women getting employed in fields that were once male-dominated.
For example, in the US, a study by the Pew Research Centre found that in 22 of 250 US metropolitan areas, women under the age of 30 earn as much or more than their male counterparts.
However, while this should be a call for celebration (we should, after all, celebrate such progress that has been achieved after centuries of fighting for a change) married women or women in any sort of union who out-earn their husbands or partners are finding their marriage lives rougher.
Everywhere, Google search bars and relationship therapists are bombarded with the same unfortunate questions:
Can a relationship work if the woman makes more money?
What will happen if I make more money than my husband?
I make much more money than my husband, what should I do?
A 2020 study from the City, University of London shows that husbands in the UK get a psychological boost when they out-earn their wives and feel unhappy if their wives earn more than they do.
Further studies show that a man is more likely to cheat on their partner if he is more financially dependent on them and that men who are completely dependent on their girlfriends or wives are five times more likely to cheat than men who earn the same amount as their partners.
In a study by the American Sociological Review, 15 per cent of the men who were 100 per cent financially dependent on their wives had affairs compared to the five per cent of high-earning wives who strayed.
When Keletu Musya first joined a regional NGO as a legal director, her then-husband was a lecturer.
“I was excited! On top of it being well-paying, I was in charge of four countries in the East African bloc. So, it meant I also had to travel a lot. Alfred (her ex-husband) was still a lecturer at the law school, where I had studied and where we had met.
“My new salary was almost thrice his. Honestly, his pay was not that bad, but it had a lot of obligations riding on it, including educating siblings. I thought my promotion would be a great relief since all our children were in school at the time.”
Her ex-husband, she says, was not too excited about the promotion.
“At first, he claimed our sons were too young for me to be travelling around all the time. I believed him. I even tried and excused myself several times from travelling to the partner countries. Later on, when he started cheating, is when he encouraged me to take up travel.”
She adds, “He was unhappy about the promotion, and since he could not bring himself to say it, he used the travelling as an excuse that he was ‘lonely.’ Just before we separated, I found out about the woman and I confronted him. We had a huge fight, he said the job had changed me, and he accused me of sleeping with my boss, which I found interesting because he is the one who had cheated and changed. I left not long after.”
Infidelity often leads to separation or divorce in many marriages. Another study by the University of Chicago shows that marriages of female breadwinners are 50 per cent more likely to end in divorce.
While such women may want a divorce because they can fend for themselves independently, the major reason for the increase in the likelihood of divorce is because of infidelity and the fact that men under such circumstances tend to be less involved in family affairs, and that can encourage emotional distance.
According to research, such men cheat because financial dependence on their wives may be a threat to their egos and masculinity. This may result in relationship-sabotaging behaviour, which is largely committed to restoring their masculinity. For this same reason, some men are likely to turn violent.
Certain physical and emotional abuse cases are directly related to pay gap differences where a woman out-earns her husband. The more a woman earns than her husband, the more likely she may be subjected to some sort of abuse.
One study noted a 20 per cent increase in the frequency of reports of emotional (and even physical) abuse from females in heterosexual couples in which female earnings were greater than male earnings.
“I am a bursar at a high school. My husband was - before he lost his job - an accountant in a PR company, where he was earning almost Sh160,000 after tax,” says Vivian, 46.
She adds, “One time, there was trouble at their office, and he was accused of something he did not do and they sacked him. He stayed home for a while looking for a job, but could not find any.
“There is a time he even applied to my school as an assistant administrator, but he did not stay for long as he could not bare being ‘smaller’ at work than his wife. Finally, he got one as a marketer in a small solar company that is not doing so well.”
“Since he lost his first job, I take care of most of the bills. I understand his situation, so, I do not mind. But he has changed. Initially, I thought he was just stressed, but he started thumping me, and he would fly into a rage over small things, accusing me of disrespect. It has reduced over time, but he still does it once in a while.”
Men like him get violent over their partners earning more than they do. Their masculinity feels threatened because their traditional role as providers has been taken over by the wife.
In this case, where the balance is tipped too much towards the woman, they may resort to violence to re-assert these roles. They may want to remind their wives that they are still the heads of the family by unreasonably being dominant and often over-aggressive.
In an interesting turn of events, women who earn more than their husbands are also likely to be doing even more housework compared to their men. That is, the gap in housework gets even larger when the woman is the primary earner.
A possible reason for this may be that the woman tries to “de-emasculate” herself by serving her husband so that he does not feel threatened.
Another popular reason, of course, is that men may refuse to participate in house chores (despite having time) as a way to penalise the high-earning wife.
According to Peter Maina, women often get hard-headed when they start earning more.
“If you do not put your foot down and make decisions, she will look down on you. Women can easily step on you. She can even make you wipe her feet. If you are not careful, you will become the ‘woman’ in that house. Some women are just contemptuous.”
He recalls his wife, whom they are still with when he had lost his job during the Covid-19 period once telling him during a fight not to give her trouble because “even that which you are pooping, I am paying for (she was the one buying all the food in the house).”
On the other hand, Kelvin Gacheru, whose girlfriend is much older than him and, earns much more than he does, believes that it depends on the kind of relationship a couple has.
“The key thing is to communicate. Often, she likes to do things around the house by herself, but I am always happy to assist. There is nothing wrong with her cooking and me washing the used utensils after.
“If she comes back tired and I was in the house the whole day, why shouldn’t I cook? But it depends on what you believe in as a couple, and perhaps also on how you were brought up. We did house chores equally in our house, so I do not see any big deal,” he says.