The Battle Of The Sexes: When Women Out-Earn Men Liza Mundy, author of The Richer Sex, discusses the trend — and implications — of women becoming the primary breadwinners in their families, a phenomenon that cuts across race, class and geographic location.

The Battle Of The Sexes: When Women Out-Earn Men

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Some of the men playing in this year's NCAA tournament will go on to lucrative careers in the NBA. And with an average annual salary of more than five million dollars, it will very likely make those men the primary breadwinners in their families.

But in her new book, "The Richer Sex," journalist Liza Mundy argues that traditional breadwinning roles are being flipped upside down. And now, many women are carrying their families financially. We started off by asking Mundy to read a section of her book.

LIZA MUNDY: (Reading) In a matter of decades, the traditional male breadwinner model has given way to one where women routinely support households and out earn the men they are married to, and nobody cares or thinks it's odd. The Hawkins family - sane, functional, rooted in a Midwestern state known for family values - offers a convincing vision of what America is becoming. We are entering an era where women, not men, will become the top earners in households. We are entering the era in which roles will flip, as resoundingly as they have done in this family. You laugh, but that big flip is just around the corner.

MARTIN: Tell me about the Hawkins family.

MUNDY: Well, this is a family of six adult siblings who grew up with a breadwinning dad in Detroit, worked for the auto industry. And they've found in adulthood, three of the siblings are in traditional marriages, but where the woman is the primary earner. Two other women are in female-breadwinning households. And there's one brother who is in a traditional breadwinning marriage. You know, in one generation there's been a complete flip, a complete transformation.

MARTIN: The thesis you're putting out here, that women are becoming the primary breadwinners, that cuts across race, economic class, geographic location in this country?

MUNDY: Absolutely, yes. It used to be a phenomenon of poverty. It used to be if a woman was a breadwinner, it was likely because her husband couldn't get a job. But it's not anymore. The fastest gains have been among sort of upper economic demographics. So it really does cut across all sectors of society now.

MARTIN: What are the economic reasons behind this?

MUNDY: Well, I think one major positive cause is the fact that women have flocked to colleges and universities in the past two or three decades. Women achieved parity with men in the 1980s and then they began outnumbering them on college campuses. And we are starting to see the economic rewards for women of that.

And what economists have shown is that three-quarters of the jobs that were lost during the recession, between 2007 and 2009, were jobs occupied by men. You know, it was called the mancession. And as our economy hollows out and these high-paying sort of working-class jobs are to a certain extent going away, women have moved out of these middle sectors up into higher paying jobs.

MARTIN: And you think this is a direct result of this most recent recession that really changed...

MUNDY: Well, it certainly happened before the recession but I think it became certainly more apparent. And in some sense it's starker.

MARTIN: I'm speaking with Liza Mundy. Her new book is called "The Richer Sex." And clearly, we would presume that if women are earning more and becoming the primary breadwinner, that the glass ceiling in the workplace must have dissipated, no?

MUNDY: No, it hasn't. And, you know, women working full-time still earn 81 percent of what men do. That's all women in all fields. And so the danger is that women will be supporting households on less than a man might make. What's interesting, even with this earnings disadvantage, women are out-earning their husbands, you know, at greater percentage every year.

MARTIN: How is this affecting family life? Are there more men who are raising their hand and saying I want to stay home, and are women OK with that?

MUNDY: Well, in some cases, yes. I think, you know, what we're seeing, certainly what the statistics show, is that men certainly want to spend more time with their children than men did a generation ago. So, I think in increasing number of cases, men are willing to be the secondary earner. But I did interview women who were having trouble with this. And in interviewed one woman who said much to her surprise, she said, you know what, my feelings changed and I found myself respecting him less as a man. He was a great dad, but I felt differently.

MARTIN: You've talked with a lot of younger women about how this has affected the dating landscape. But I also wonder if you've seen any counter-response to this trend? Some reporting I've read has suggested that there is a movement among women in their 20s who recognize that there's been a shift and they're opting to stay home, opting for a more traditional situation. Did you see any of that?

MUNDY: You know, that wasn't the demographic that I was doing interviews among. But what the conflict I think that could create - and I'm sure there are women who are having that reaction - but what the studies also show is that men increasingly want to marry a well-educated, high-earning woman. They don't necessarily want to marry a woman who is going to opt out or stay at home. Psychologists have found, you know, 40 or 50 years ago when men were ranking traits that they were interested in a marital partner, domestic skills ranked pretty high. Domestic skills have plummeted and financial prospects has risen. So, there may be now a mismatch if lots of women, you know, with these great college degrees want to stay home, they may find that the men in their lives are saying uh-uh.

MARTIN: The men want something different.

MUNDY: Yeah, yeah. You know, you've got all this education, you've got all this earning potential and I'm willing to facilitate your career.

MARTIN: Do you have kids?

MUNDY: I do. I have a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son.

MARTIN: How do you think their relationships might be different, their generation?

MUNDY: That's a really good question. I try in my book to take a very optimistic view, that we'll move into a world where people make decisions, couples make decisions based on affinity. And if the woman is better suited to be the earner and the worker and the man is better suited to be the primary parent for a while, that that will be widely accepted and will offer an abundance of choice for both men and women.

MARTIN: Author and journalist Liza Mundy. Her new book is called "The Richer Sex." It goes on sale this week. She also has the cover story of Time magazine on newsstands now. Liza, thanks so much for coming in.

MUNDY: It's great to be here. Thank you.


MARTIN: You can read an excerpt of "The Richer Sex" on our website, And we'll like to hear from you on this topic. Do you live in a female-breadwinner household? Is this good or bad for families? Visit WEEKEND EDITION on Facebook and tell us what you think.


MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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