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Sat04192014

Opinion

Women as breadwinners: new study stirs debate

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A couple of weeks ago, a frustrated single woman wrote into "Ask Demetria," the other column I write for The Root each Thursday, to, well, ask if she should only date men who made as much as, or more money than, she does. She has been open to entertaining men whose income is lower than hers, but she's noticed friction. I suggested that it wasn't the money that was the issue; it was the self-confidence – or, rather, the lack of self-confidence – of the guys she had encountered.

The good news is that there are plenty of men who don't care if a woman makes more money. The bad news? According to a 2013 Pew Research study, 28 percent of adults said they agreed it's generally better for a marriage if the husband earns more money than his wife. Eighteen percent of college-educated adults felt the same.

Fox News contributor Erick Erickson is among that 18 percent. Last week on "Lou Dobbs Tonight," Erickson – part of an all-male panel – went nuclear when responding to another factoid from the survey, which also claimed that mothers are now the primary source of income in 40 percent of American households. Apparently there are actually a lot of insecure – or out-of-date – men, more than I ever imagined.

"When you look at biology – when you look at the natural world – the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role," Erickson said. "Having Mom as primary breadwinner is bad for kids and bad for marriage."

The outrage over his comments was swift and loud, even from Erickson's Fox colleagues. Greta Van Susteren tweeted, "Have these men lost their minds? ... Next thing they will have a segment to discuss eliminating women's right to vote." Political analyst Kirsten Powers tweeted to Erickson, "I'm sincerely confused."

But Erickson didn't back down. The following day he posted a blog, "The Truth May Hurt, but Is Not Mean," which just infuriated folks even more. "In modern society, we are supposed to applaud feminists who teach women they can have it all – that there is no gender identifying role and women can fulfill the role of husbands and fathers just as men do," he wrote.

Le sigh.

Like Powers, and many other women, I, too, am sincerely confused by Erickson and the 28 percent of respondents who seem to share his outlook. What exactly is the problem with women – mothers specifically – being the primary breadwinners and/or earning more than their partners?

If the enduring recession should have taught us anything, it's that jobs are not secure, especially for men, who were hit the hardest in 2007 to 2009. If a man was married to a working woman who was the primary breadwinner, that family didn't take as hard a hit as it could have.

Also, salaries ebb and flow. Everyone's goal is to increase his or her salary, but in the current culture, in which people move from job to job and layoffs seem imminent, sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down. The same applies to the salary of your (potential) spouse. And since we're talking about families, why should it matter who earns more of the clichéd bacon, especially when it's collectively going to the same household and will be used for the betterment of that family?

The only problem here is some men's egos. It doesn't make a man any less of one if he's not out-earning his partner. And contrary to paranoid belief, the rise of women who provide the primary income doesn't mean that women en masse are going to turn around and belittle the lesser financial contributions of men, as has been done to women for so long. Trust. Women have better things to do, like work – hard – because people are relying on us or we don't want to rely on someone else.

It's no secret that most people don't adapt well to change, and Erickson's visceral response to the changing "norms" is a great indication. Fortunately for women making strides, his outcry won't curb the tide of progress.

(Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of "A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.")

Ask Demetria: Should I only date men at my income level?

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