When the Wife Earns More

Swati and Sanjay look like any other happy couple. But they are different from most other couples. They have turned the traditional roles of man and woman on its head.

Swati is the primary breadwinner of the family while Sanjay, a designer, is the homemaker. And Sanjay says he has had no problems with the fact that Swati brings home the bread and the butter, while he provides only the jam.

When the Wife Earns More

When the Wife Earns More [Illustration by Shinod AP]

They have two teenaged daughters. Bringing them up has largely been Sanjay’s responsibility since he can afford to spend more time at home – something that most of his friends do not find enviable. “My male friends found it very uncomfortable, and some were even disturbed,” he says. But the truth is “I enjoy my life”.

“The ‘major wage earner’ label has been more of a joke with us than anything else,” pipes in Swati.

Families like Swati and Sanjay’s are not very common. Since money can be a sore subject in any relationship. It is commonly believed that when the wife earns more, it upsets the conventional power structure in the family. One who earns more will want a bigger say in all matters and this might not be acceptable to the traditional male.

Vineeta used to work with a multinational company. But she had to quit her job after a few months when she was accused of neglecting her daughter and the house. Vineeta earned more than Anurag, her husband, who is an engineer with a public sector undertaking. “I never had the courage to organise an office party at home, that would be seen as if I was showing off my status to my husband,” she says.

What was more disturbing was that her husband did not even accept gifts from her. After a while, she knew she had to make a choice between her marriage and her job. She gave up her job. “Now at least I have peace at home,” she says.

But this mindset is fast changing. Although people like Anurag might not change their minds, there are others who have decided to move with the times because it makes practical sense.

“There is no reason why I should resent it if my wife earns more than me,” says Krishnaswamy, former Sports Editor in the Indian Express newspaper and now a freelancing writer. His wife works with a corporate firm which obviously pays more than any media house.

However, entire reversal of roles are still a rarity. Men are usually not used to household work. And it is rather difficult for them to slip into the role.

This has a lot to do with the fact that for a lot of people housework is not ‘work.’ Look at the way even language has evolved. When you ask someone whether his wife ‘works’, you actually mean whether she works outside home. In other words, you are overlooking an entire arena of workspace that includes cleaning, cooking or dusting. Most men would rather “work” outside than at home, since housework is not “work”.

Most of the men Parentspitara spoke to looked after the house along with a domestic help. Though some of them could run the house on their own when the domestic help was away, not all of them were self sufficient. Sanjay can handle things on his own, but it would be slightly difficult for Krishnaswamy to become a homemaker.

“I have never cooked in my lifetime. All I can do is heat up things in the microwave oven,” he admits.

What needs to be done is a rethink on what you see as ‘work’. Ritu, a high profile banker, says she and her husband, who has never held a full-time job, have evolved a convenient arrangement. She works outside and he looks after the house. And the arrangement has worked because both of them have come to realise their areas of expertise and respect it.

Though the arrangement appears to be working in a lot of cases, some of our subjects did admit that things are not what they seem on the surface. Although a lot of people have changed with the needs of the times, it is very difficult to entirely wipe away age old notions about an insitution like marriage and spouse’s roles.

Harsha, an executive with an international airline, said: “In a place deep down inside me that I don’t like to visit very often, I think I expected my husband to earn more than me – and in some sense still do today.”

Vipin, her husband is the family cook and looks after their son, Aman. His wife comes home from the office late and, often tired,” he says. “It’s the one thing we’ve had serious arguments about in all these years.”

Similarly, Swati agrees that when she and Sanjay decided that he should stay at home to look after the children, they felt they were pioneers in this space. But he admits he was often troubled by his friends’ remarks and she felt she was shouldering too much of a burden. “We underestimated how we had been brought up and the power of traditional notions,” she sighs.

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