Pride & Gender Roles: Demythologizing Marital Income Disparity
Getting a job in a competitive, capitalist society is a lot like playing dodge ball in grade school- it involves praying you aren’t picked last and getting your buddies who have already made the team to vouch for you. But unlike a game of dodge ball, the career world can affect every aspect of your life indefinitely. So what happens when Christian men, convinced that they need to be the predominant fiscal provider, get out-earned by their wives?
There seems to be an innate, archetypal desire in most men to want to bring home the bacon. Which historically has proven to be societal glue and for the most part, a good economic system that made it harder for men to be cowards. However, today things are obviously different. After World War II, the workforce was saturated with women who didn’t want to leave their jobs just because their husbands were home. And today American universities are well over 50% women, a fiery industrious spirit is the new staple of femininity and gender is assumed to be a thing of the past.
As Christians, the growing concern over the shape of manhood has led portions of the church to fight back against these cultural outgrowths, and rightly so. And despite the benefits of this fight, all of those manhood-enhancing small group studies and Driscoll-like dudes yelling at men from the pulpit can really heap on the guilt for a guy who makes less money than his wife.
As a man who makes less than his wife (I am a full time student with a part time job, my wife is a full time social worker), I have had to wrestle with this constantly. I want to shepherd our family, but I don’t make much money. So does that mean I have less say in financial matters? Does that mean I am less entitled to make decisions in general? In a transactional relationship where roles are based on contribution, it probably does. A chronicle in the Atlantic of three non-Christian (I assume) men in my shoes shows what the society at large thinks of this phenomenon of gender roles. Some use the income disparity as a license for selfish ambition, laziness and individualism. Some feel guilt and ease their guilt with as much finical contribution as they can handle. And some see gender as financially transcendent.
But how should the Christian view such situations, especially if the couple is a genuinely seeking to honor God in their marriage, family and finances? I don’t know completely, it’s a new area for me as I just got married this year. But from studying the biblical gender roles and the character of God, one can draw some general conclusions to cut through the cultural clutter. Most importantly, couples need to repent of the cultural sins of individualism, consumerism and relational competition. Marriage is meant to be a transformational institution, with the roles of the man and woman complimenting each other in order to create a single entity (not two individuals), which more closely reflects the glory of God (Ephesians 4:28-33). And these gender roles are not based in finances, personalities or cultural expectations (conservative or liberal). Some very average men will marry hyper-gifted women and vice-versa, but when gender roles are based in submission to Christ and not wrapped up in our own ego, we are free to honor God (see 1 Corithians 12:1-11 and Colossians 3:12-17).
So if you find yourself making less money than your wife or know somebody who is, lead them towards submission to Christ and each other. Not necessarily towards a new job.
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I make more than my wife (my wife stays at home). But when it comes to financial management, she’s brilliant at it, so she takes the reins.
That doesn’t necessarily answer the question posed here, but it is to say that in our marriage, we see our finances as one large pool–we pour what we get in and manage our household needs out of that. Who makes the money is irrelevant to us,
Thank you for your thoughtful insights, and reminding me that marriage is not about a competition to see who brings the most into the relationship/household, but teamwork to learn to love as much as possible and to get closer to God. This blog is better than feminist…it’s amazing.
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