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When Wives Make More

by Rachel Morgan

What it’s like to be the female breadwinner in the family – and what it’s like to be married to her.

It took a little “rewiring” for Mike Bowman to come to terms with the fact that his wife earned a higher salary than he did.

Bowman, a social worker for Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, works about 40 hours per week at a local halfway house, counseling addicted inmates before their reentrance into society.

His wife, Lynda Hinkle, is the lead attorney and principal of her law firm, Law Offices of Lynda L. Hinkle, which has locations in Blackwood, Marlton, Salem and Woodbury. She often puts in more than 60 hours a week at the office.

“Over time, I realized the more I didn’t harp on it, the more I didn’t resent her or hold her back, the better she became. It was just sort of casting away those old roles of the male being the provider for the family and the female providing the secondary income,” Bowman says. “There was a little rewiring.”

The Bellmawr-based couple has been married for 12 years. They have no children together, but Bowman has three from a previous marriage. And Hinkle wasn’t always the breadwinner.

“Throughout the whole last decade, when she was going to school, I was bringing home the majority of the money,” Bowman says. “Now it’s my turn to follow what I want to do, and not make as much.”

Hinkle agrees. “There have been different times in our relationship when he was bringing in a higher income,” she says. “We have flip-flopped back and forth. When I was teaching and he was working construction, he was earning more. But that’s never really been an issue for us. He knew he married a feminist, so he knew what he was dealing with.”

But it wasn’t quite so easy for Bowman, the son of parents who played very traditional roles. His father was a teacher in the Philadelphia Public School District; his mother worked as a part-time clerk to supplement the family income. “I’m sure that played into it,” he says of the feelings he experienced when his wife began making more than him.

“There was a period when I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m making so little and she’s making so much.’ My self-worth was going down,” he remembers. “[It felt like] I was not contributing to the family.”

The turning point came in November 2013 on a cruise the couple went on.

“We had time to relax and think. I looked at it as, ‘Why is life so bad? Why do you have to make more money than her? It’s kind of archaic,’” he remembers. “Why not benefit from that shift in the trend, the way of thinking? I’m living in modern times, I might as well enjoy it.”

As it turns out, Hinkle and Bowman aren’t alone.

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, in 24 percent of all married couples—either with children or without—the wife brings home a higher income.

The same study, “Breadwinner Moms,” found that this trend applies to mothers, as well. Among households with children under 18, wives were the primary breadwinners in 15 percent as of 2011, up from just 4 percent in 1960. The study cites rising levels of education among married women as a factor in the trend of higher-earning wives.

Another local couple also embraces this new earning pattern—­and they say it doesn’t affect their marriage at all.

Lynn Bardowski—also known as the Million Dollar Party Girl—says her husband Bill has “no problem” with her earning a higher salary. “Our whole marriage has been a seesaw, where we really didn’t care about who made the money,” she says. “It was a give and take during the whole process. We really have a great 50/50 of support.” The Audubon couple has been married for 32 years and they have two daughters.

In 1990, Lynn left a successful corporate sales career, complete with a BMW, great salary and live-in-nanny, to start her own direct sales business selling PartyLite candles.

“We were already that double income family, where I was even at that point making more than my husband,” Lynn says. “We kind of have passed the baton. When I started in retail, he was the main income earner, then I went into sales and my seesaw went up, then I left that job, and depended a lot on him because I was a start-up, and his seesaw went back up.”

Today, Lynn’s seesaw is once again up and she’s earning a higher salary than her husband. She sits at the helm of a multimillion-dollar business and can also add author, business coach, national speaker and radio host to her repertoire.

Bill even took some time off to help with her business, Lynn says. “He took a year, year-and-a-half to support me and realized he needed a purpose himself, needed to be doing his own thing. So he went back to his job. He has his own fulfilling career.” Bill is an internal audit manager at Pep Boys Corporate Headquarters in Philadelphia.

Just don’t call Lynn the breadwinner. “I’m hesitant to use the term breadwinner,” she says. “My husband and I are both working. We really don’t think about it as who’s making more. It’s all going in one pot.”

She also says she’s never felt as though Bill was intimidated by her success. “I’ve never felt that he’s been threatened by my career or anything like that,” she says. “He’s always been super comfortable with me making a ton of money. He’s like, ‘Go out and do what you have to do.’” Lynn making more than him “has never bothered me,” Bill says.

The family relies on Bill’s more “corporate” job for other necessities, like health insurance. And when their two daughters were younger, a lot of the parenting fell to him due to Lynn being out working, hosting parties.

“When she first started out, she was doing those PartyLite parties four to five nights a week,” Bill remembers. “I had my job, working 10 hours a day, then I would get the kids, get dinner ready, help them do their homework, get them bathed, get them to sleep, read the books and all that stuff.”

The idea of women making more than their husbands isn’t new to this family. Lynn and Bill’s oldest daughter makes more than her husband, as does Bill’s sister, who also sells PartyLite candles. “My sister, who got my wife involved in PartyLite, makes more than her husband, as well,” Bill says. “We all go on trips together, go to great restaurants on the weekends, have the boats, etc. We both have great lives because of how much money our wives make.”

But Lynn stresses it’s not about the “stuff.” “At the end of the day, we know we can walk away from it and what we really love is being with each other, and being with the kids.”

Experts say it takes a male comfortable in his own sense of identity to be OK with a higher-earning wife.

“With respect to earnings, most of the couples that adjust well to it, I think [have] a sufficient self-concept and identity,” says Dr. G. Scott Budge, a licensed psychologist at Centra Comprehensive Psychotherapy and Psychiatric Associates in Marlton. Budge is also a family wealth consultant.

He said he finds males that have evolved identities regarding money to find their higher-earning wives “a kind of non-issue.”

“Someone who is secure in themselves and who they are and what they are about is less likely to be unnerved that their spouse is earning much more than them at work,” Budge says.

Dr. David Leibovitz, a licensed psychologist and director of the Marlton-based Hopewell Springs Counseling Center, attributes the shift in gender roles to several factors, echoing what the Pew study found regarding women’s increased level of education.

“These changes are largely driven by the change in society of women’s roles: Women’s increased economic power, their higher education, the effect of women’s movements, and all the laws that require equal pay and so forth, have led us to the point where women are not only breadwinners, but they hold more power in the relationship,” he says.

The economy can also play a part of shifting gender roles, Leibovitz says, such as a situation where a man loses his job and assumes the role as primary caregiver to any children the couple may have.

“The men that didn’t agree to that role and were thrust into it, they have a harder time adjusting,” he says. “It’s emasculating for some men that were brought up with the belief that the man should provide for the family and create all the income. The likely result is the man who feels shameful or guilty. Some even have depression or anxiety. For them, it’s a real struggle.”

And adjusting to this societal shift is a process, Leibovitz says. “Those gender roles and the stereotypes haven’t fully gone away. We are still adjusting.”

Other couples choose to forgo the income issue altogether. Take Jerry and Anne Klein and their public relations firm, the Mount Laurel-based Anne Klein Communications Group. The Medford couple decided early on that they would bring home the same salary.

“From day one, Jerry and I agreed we would each take the same salary and share any profits equally,” Anne says. “Since we came from completely different backgrounds, we asked for help from a management consultant so we would not continually get in each other's way.”

“To be honest with you, I don’t remember the exact reason why, but I think it was probably because we are husband and wife, so it really didn’t matter which pot the money and profits went into,” Jerry says. “I think just for the ease of record-keeping, we split it down the middle.”

Prior to PR, Anne worked in banking in the oil industry, as well as the non-profit sector, before starting her eponymous business in 1982. Jerry, who worked as a broadcaster, then a lawyer, joined Anne in 1985.

In sharing their firm, Jerry handles the business, legal and technology aspects, while Anne focuses on PR and strategy. They are currently in the midst of transitioning leadership of the firm to longtime employee Chris Lukach, who was named president in July.

Their equitable attitude crosses over into their home life, as well. “We are a very collaborative couple, so this arrangement has worked well for us; and we encouraged other couples who worked together to not make one individual more important than the other,” Anne says. “Each person has an important role to play. In fact, Jerry and I presented quite a few seminars about going into business with your spouse and still staying married.”

And that’s not just lip service. The couple has been married for 38 years, in business together for nearly 30. “We just learned to share the responsibility, play to our strengths and not really focus on each others’ weaknesses,” Anne says. “Play to the strengths in your marriage, just as you play to the strengths in your business.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 5 August, 2014).
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