Saturday, October 15, 2016

The other side of the income gap

A large company I worked at for many years was making a big effort to have women take promotions, including giving them an advantage over men.  Many women took advantage of this, but many did not. I spoke with one of the analysts who was tracking the reasons women gave for not promoting. The analyst told me that most women said they were happy where they were, they didn’t want the extra stress, and/or it was up to their husbands to make more money.

This was consistent with what I had heard from female co-workers over the years. There were many times I would hear women complain about how they needed more money, but their "lazy” husbands would not get better jobs. Every time I heard this I suggested that she promote, and I reminded her that our employer was bending over backward to help women get promotions. And in every case, the conversation went something like what follows:

Me: Why don’t you promote?
She: I don’t want to promote. I like my job. I’m happy where I am.
Me: Maybe your husband is happy where he is.
She: But he should want to promote. He should take pride in promoting because it’s part of his self-esteem.
Me: Promoting could increase your pride as well, and help your self-esteem.
She: My self-esteem comes from taking care of myself. I care about my health and don’t want to shorten my life with a stressful job.
Me: Maybe your husband wants to avoid stress too. Maybe he cares about his health just as much as you care for yours.
She: But he should be able to handle the stress. He should want to take on the challenge.
Me: From what you told me your husband is resisting your pressure to promote. That should tell you something about his wishes.

After this the conversation usually just went into a circle, with her main points being that she doesn’t want to promote, she doesn’t have to promote, but her husband is obligated to promote. One woman even bragged that she was going to make her husband’s life miserable until he promoted. When I pointed out that it’s not nice to make a loved one's life miserable, she said it was for his own good. But from where I was sitting, it seemed like it was more for her own good. She was the one who wanted more money, and she would reap the benefit of a higher shared income while he took on the added stress.

And this is a point that rarely gets discussed. With shared income, every time the husband's paycheck increases the wife's income increases as well. They both have more money available to spend. They both have access to the same shared income.

This should also be true when the wife's paycheck increases, but from what many women have told me, this is not the case. Many women are of the belief that "her paycheck is her money, while his paycheck is their money." In other words, his paycheck is family money to be shared by both of them. But her income belongs to her, and she decides when to share it. Under these circumstances, her income is actually greater than his, even if her paycheck is smaller.

To illustrate this, let's say the husband's paycheck is $50,000 a year, while the wife's paycheck is $40,000. His paycheck is shared, resulting in all $50,000 going to joint income. But her paycheck is not completely shared. So let's say she contributes $30,000 into the family fund, raising it to $80,000. The result is that each gets $40,000 (half of $80,000) from the community fund. But she also gets an additional $10,000 from the part of her paycheck that she declines to share. The result is her overall income is $55,000, while his income is only $45,000. In other words, even though her paycheck is lower, her actual income is higher.

His paycheck = $50,000. Her paycheck = $40,000

                                 Joint Fund   His Share   Her Share
His contribution         $50,000     $25,000     $25,000   
Her contribution        $30,000     $15,000     $15,000
Her paycheck not shared                                $10,000
Total Income                                  $45,000     $55,000           

Of course, the money is not divided perfectly in half, with each taking a handful of money. Couples don't spend money that way. But that doesn't change the fact that shared income is a reality, and that greater pressure on men to be a money provider leads to higher income for women. Yet this is not reflected when statistics about relative incomes are presented.