Men have traditionally been considered the breadwinner of the household. But over the past decades, more and more women have been earning more than their partners. How does this affect their relationship dynamics?
In Singapore, stereotypes of the assumed roles of men (breadwinner, provider, head of the household) and women (caregiver, homemaker, housewife) still linger. However, it’s no longer rare for women to out-earn their husbands or boyfriends. We speak to three women about how their higher income affects their relationships.
Keeping it open and honest
Vanessa, 30, is in a long distance relationship with Srđan, 33, from Croatia. She’s a deputy editor of a travel magazine and, with the exchange rates, has an income three to four times higher than that of her partner’s, who works as a hotel reception manager.
“I think we have a good dynamic where we can talk openly about anything – even if it feels uncomfortable at the moment,” Vanessa says. “Money continues to be a touchy topic, but I think we are trying to reject that notion by talking about it as honestly as possible,” she adds.
Srđan agrees. “There is an indoctrinated obligation amongst Croatian men to be providers,” he says. “The dating culture in Croatia reflects this as well, as men who are not financially independent and of ‘inferior’ financial means will be considered less attractive.”
To counter these mindsets, he and Vanessa keep an open dialogue about the setbacks of their cultures. “We’re overcoming these gender doctrines of our respective societies,” he says. “We fight it by nurturing a communication style that is completely free of any shame or holding back.”
“[We] talk exhaustively about everything,” Vanessa adds, stressing the importance of being willing to see things from the other person’s point of view, and being open to admitting when a misstep has been made, or an opinion has been biased.
Splitting the bill
Siti Jeffrey, 27, and her partner Kenneth Chong, 31, work in the same industry. The income gap is less than a thousand dollars and, at present, has not presented significant difficulties. With the exception of their upcoming wedding and leasing of an HDB flat, most purchases are handled independently.
“Our investments are completely separate,” Siti says. “We don’t stand to gain from each other financially.” Keeping things open and pragmatic, Siti says that while she’d be willing to support her future husband if situations change, she “would definitely set terms and conditions that would not jeopardise [her] own financial condition.”
On dates, the bills are usually split according to what the individual has ordered, with neither feeling pressure to give or ask for more.
“We manage our own finances individually, as though we’re friends,” Kenneth says. “[And] you don’t start a joint account even with very close friends.”