Saturday, 2 October 2010


Tales of women who have to resign from their jobs once they get married abound. Others change jobs to take up what their husbands recommend or even join businesses started and controlled by their husbands.
Does this ring a bell? Often, it is said men are wary of wives who are more economically stable than themselves. In the above scenarios, it boils down to a man aiming to have a bearing or control of whatever his wife earns.
Call it insecurity or whatever, but researchers in Britain and USA have other thoughts ----Women earning more than their husbands are likely to end up either separated or divorced.
That is the verdict of the study done in Britain and published in the Daily Mail last month.
Another research done by American researchers introduced another angle. That of ‘house husbands’ (those men whose wives work while they remain at home) are more likely to be unfaithful.
The men whose wives fully catered for family bills were five more times likely to cheat on their labouring wives than those who contributed an equal amount of money to the family budget, the study by researchers at Cornell University indicates.
“Low earning men tend to use an extramarital affair to assert their masculinity,” the study says.
Back to British study, also done by American researchers, women earning higher than their husbands were up to 38 per cent more likely to divorce than those earning the same or less income.
The study done over 23 years (between 1979 and 2002) and which involved 2,500 women, suggested that financial independence gave women the guts to bolt out of an unhappy marriage.
“It has a lot to do with dented egos of both sexes. A man may feel his pride is wounded if he is not earning the bigger income while women’s security is enhanced by the financial stability hence the need for a man dwindles,” notes Prof Jay Teachman, a researcher of Western Washington University.
These findings may find collaboration in developing societies, and puts the marriage institution at an awkward position. Would any right thinking man obstruct his wife’s upward mobility in both career or business so that she does not earn more than him?
It would be a retrogressive move in today’s world as there is a paradigm shift where financing of the modern family is becoming a shared responsibility between husband and wife.
One of the divorced interviewees in the British study whose former husband earned less than her but is currently married by a higher earning husband said, “ I am now happier with my man who earns more than me. I am not saying women earning more than their husbands never works but it takes a very special man.”
In case of a divorce from this situation, the study found, it is normally the wife that asks for it. According to Anna Paulsen, one of the respondents, highly successful women are less likely to need a man to validate them.
“They are also not likely to take mediocrity from a man and so they feel that they can make it in a more peaceful manner when alone than when with a less endowed man,” she says.
According to Paulsen, an unemployable woman often tends to turn to a man to give meaning to her life and also cater for her bills and therefore also likely to stick to a marriage even when she is unhappy.
Prof Teachman goes ahead to propose for an ideal family income ratio. “ It is less problematic if the ratio of income is 3:2, with the man earning more. Otherwise, bloated egos on either gender breeds tension in the relationship,” he says.
Calculated in Kenyan figures, this would mean if the husband earns Sh 30,000 a month, the wife’s earning should be in the region of Sh 20,000.
If he earns Sh 50,000 a month, the ideal situation should have the wife earning not more than Sh 30, 000- Sh35,000.
Further, If the man takes home Sh 100,000 the study suggests the best income for the wife should not be more than Sh 65,000.
The researcher also says that earning women tend to react negatively to a person earning less than themselves and this includes their husbands, therefore causing conflict in the marriage.
But what do Kenyans feel about these findings? “Men want to be in control of whatever they are doing with a woman. When the wife earns more, it goes without saying that her man slowly loses this control, “ says Gabriel Ouma, a Veterinary surgeon in Nairobi.
When such a man loses this power of control, says Ouma, conflicts arise. It is a challenge for men with women who earn because they have no option but to work harder.
According to him, no man should allow a situation where his wife earns more to remain that way for long as it will definitely cause a conflict.
Ouma introduces another controversial angle which he says he has witnessed in many families, "The higher a woman earns than her man, the more the connections she makes and the higher the chances that she can become unfaithful with men of her class," he says.
Margaret Ambetsa believes the problem is male ego. “Men have pathetic egos. Even when a woman has submitted they will still feel they need to express their power over the woman if they earn less.”
Women, she asserts, err when they (consciously or unconsciously) make their husband “ look like a subordinate” in the marriage simply because their payslip is fatter.
“For example, even if you drive a big car, you should never expect that your man will always open the gate for you and think things will remain the same,” she opines.
According to Pauline Ongaji many women will question “what else he should do now that I am paying for this and that”. “If the man does not satisfy her expectations of these other responsibilities, the woman will not find any value of the man,” she says.
For Benson Matheka, external influence is mostly to blame for conflict that arises when incomes are not at par. He says if the man was better endowed before the woman overtook him, it should take understanding and reciprocation to sort financial matters.
Playing second fiddle
“Couples should never see each other in the light of changing fortunes. You cannot prevent your wife from improving financially,” he says.
This argument is easily re-inforced by Esther Kulundu, a teacher.
“Any talk of a ratio of incomes does not make sense. You cannot stop your wife from progressing for fear of being overtaken,” says Kulundu who is advancing her studies and studying for a masters degree at Kenyatta University.
Men should break the traditional status quo that requires women to play second fiddle in things. If a man believes a woman can be senior to him, there should be no problem,” she argues.
However, she is quick to fault women. “We have a problem of letting money and education get into our heads. The moment one does this, the marriage will definitely have cracks,’ she says.
She also faults the way boys are culturalized in society. “You hear boys being told not to do this or that because it is woman’s job. Such a boy will grow into a chauvinist who will not take some things even when they do not reduce the maleness in him,” says the teacher.
Dennis Ogaso’s pick is that men were born to be the heads of family and this comes with responsibilities. “Women were created to be helpers. So if they are the ones helping the man, it is conflicts will have to emerge as the man will feel undermined.”
One of the main things that create classes is level of income. It easily happens in marriages and the one in the lower class (read the one earning less) will naturally be relegated to the backseat. That is what a marriage will not take for long,” says Ogaso, a young doctor in Nairobi.
A woman who has more money should actually strive to promote the husband and vice versa, Ogaso suggests but insists, “The ideal situation is the man being number one and the woman number two especially on money matters. There are no two ways about it.”

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