This Just In: The Wage Gap Is Good for Marriages (Sure It Is)

By Shaker ExMo, who describes herself on Facebook as, "Full time sociologist, part time yoga tyro, all around awesome."

Look here, angry feminists. That wage gap you keep complaining about? The one that means that if you have a vagina (or look like you might have one), you will earn 75% of what someone with a penis (or who looks like they might have one) does? Even if you have comparable education and experience? Yeah, as it turns out, sociologists* have found that the gap is actually good for your relationship. At least according to the New York Times.
Men who were completely dependent on their female partner's income — the vaunted Stay at Home Dad, for example, and his less appreciated cohort, Laid-Off Dad — were five times more likely to cheat than men who contributed an equal amount of money to the relationship. And, in a cruel twist for women, men who earn significantly more than their female partners are also more likely to cheat. The safety zone, apparently, is when women make 75 percent of what men earn, which sounds suspiciously like the national average of women's salaries relative to men's.
It does seem suspicious, doesn't it. There are a few reasons why this "suspicious" finding may have come about. First of all, the data used in this study is a nationally-representative study called the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, which is based on yearly interviews with young people who were between 12 and 16 in 1997, when the study began. Mansch's analysis focuses on respondents between the ages of 18 and 28 who were in long-term (more than a year long) committed (married or cohabitating) heterosexual relationships. Theoretically, then, a male respondent could be 19 and be in his first long-term co-habiting relationship and could also be in a situation where he was making less money than his female partner. The flaw in this is that the Mansch seems to argue that a 19-year-old and a 27-year-old have similar maturity patterns, and tend to have the same types (re: trust, intimacy, goals, commitment) of relationships, which I'm sure we can agree is not necessarily the case.

My first "serious" boyfriend, whom I lived with from age 18-20, cheated on me and while he was from a more affluent background than I, I always worked and he never did. Now, at the age of 29, I am in a 10-year relationship with a man who has been "unemployed"** for at least half of that time. He is not cheating on me. Do my personal experiences negate this finding? No. Methodology Lesson #1: Exceptions Do Not Prove the Rule. However, equating 18 year old and 28 year olds is problematic.

The second reason for this "suspicious" finding is our dear old friend Correlation Does Not Equal Causation (Coming next week in Methodology Lesson #2). Yes, it is interesting that men who earn less than their female partners are more likely to be unfaithful. It is also interesting that murder rates and ice cream sales both see higher rates in the summer months. And that people who wear larger shoes score higher on math competency tests. And that when more fire trucks respond to a fire call, there is more damage to the structure.

That does not mean that there is something about ice cream that makes people murderous, just as that does not mean that there is something about the size of one's feet that makes one good at math, or that fire trucks cause damage to burning homes. What it means is that there may be something about financial inequity in relationships, particularly inequity that results from the female partner out-earning the male partner, that increases the likelihood of infidelity. But we don't know that from this study. To her credit, Cristin Munsch, the original author of the study, points this out:
But even Ms. Munsch cautions couples not to take the data too much to heart. Tempering the findings is the overall low percentage of people who admitted to cheating — 3.8 percent of male partners and 1.4 percent of female partners annually, roughly in line with the national average, which runs from 3 to 4 percent of married spouses in a given year.
Additionally, when what she calls "institutional and individual mechanisms" are controlled for, the relationship all but disappears. In simple terms, when the statistical relationship becomes more complex, the single variable of income inequality loses its significance. Taking into account things like relationship satisfaction, age, and level of education erases the effect of income inequality alone.

Of course, The New York Times does mention that, briefly. However, their screaming headline "By Her Support, Does She Earn His Infidelity?" (incidentally, in the Fashion section) puts the responsibility right where it belongs. On women. And, presumably, on uppity women who insist on earning their rightful wage for the work they do. And who have the gall to chose a partner not based on his earning potential, but on how he treats her and how their partnership works.

And what is the lesson here? If you are like most women and earn less than your male counterparts, see the silver lining: At least now your husband won't cheat on you. And if you are a shrew who has no time for relationships but somehow manage to wrangle a man who, let's face it, isn't earning more money than he is because of bitches like you, if he cheats on you it is all your fault.


*Not all sociologists. Just one. Who hasn't published her article yet. Or probably even finished writing it. Who, if she is anything like me, presented a half-finished piece of work at a professional conference so she could get some feedback on it while she enjoyed herself in Atlanta at a fancy hotel on her department's nickel.

**Of course, we are assuming here that all "employment" must be work done for wages. Interesting how this paradigm assumes that any work done in the home is work that has no value. Where have I heard this kind of thing before? Oh right.

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