Often, if a woman has a male partner, she is earning the same as — or less than — he is. And our numbers back it up. In a poll of more than 500 heterosexual women, 55% of those in long-term relationships had salaries that were lower than their partner's. Only 24% of those in relationships were earning more than their S.O.
This, of course, could be attributed to a number of factors (industry, age, location). But the subject of who pays for what and how things are split is a common topic on our site — and in the Money Diaries comments.So we decided to interview women who are earning significantly less than the men they're with, to anonymously discuss how money, gender, and careers play a part in their relationships. We interviewed a woman who earned $300,000 after selling her start-up — before she moved to Shanghai and began earning $36,000 while her husband made $240,000. We went through the finances of a woman who makes half of what her partner makes, but pays an equal amount in rent. Finally, we chatted with Hayley, a 24-year-old server who is about to marry a man whose salary is twice what hers is. For our fourth installment of Not A Trophy Wife, Cat, a 26-year-old woman in marketing discusses what it's like to live with her investment-banker boyfriend.
Tell me about you and your boyfriend. "I'm 26 this year, and my boyfriend is 29. We've been together almost four years, and we live together in San Francisco. I work in marketing slash business development at a tech start-up, so I earn around $75,000 a year." What does your boyfriend do? "He's an investment banker. I asked him how much he makes yesterday, to prep for this interview, and he said he earns a little north of $500,000. Some of that is bonus and stocks, though, so his base salary is probably around $300,000."
How did you two meet? "A college friend of mine worked with him as an analyst when he was an associate at an investment bank. I was 22, and he was 25. I was in a very single phase in my life. I was just getting out of a long-distance relationship, and I wasn't really looking for a relationship or a partner. But he's from the U.K., and I'm from Canada, so we both just bonded over this common element of being a foreigner. We clicked really well from the beginning." What were your money situations when you first met?"Well, I had just graduated from college earlier that year, and I was working at my first real job, which was marketing for a hospitality group. It was honestly not very livable, looking back. Starting off, it was $35,000 a year, in San Francisco. Did you have any idea of what his salary might be when you first met him? "I went to school for business administration, and there, you get really ingrained into this idea that you have to do accounting, consulting, or finance, to have job security. So I knew what kind of salary people could get, but I didn't think he was wealthy. It was more like, he doesn't have to worry about money."
But you gathered he made more money than you did. Did that bother you?"It did, but I got over it. When I started dating him, a lot of my friends who were investment bankers and have moved on to VC or whatever, they would make jokes like, 'Oh you're a gold-digger now. Why are you even working?' Annoying jokes like that. I just brushed them off because I knew that wasn't the case. I never accepted anything that I felt uncomfortable with."
When did you realize how much money he was actually making? "About one and a half years into dating him. Because of my low salary, I was constantly looking for affordable living arrangements. I moved around a lot, and I was looking for a new place because my roommate was not that great. He would bring couch-surfers around without telling me. I was also looking for a new job because the company I was at was trying to get acquired. So my boyfriend was like, 'Well why don’t you just stay with me until you can find a new job?' I was kind of iffy about it because we had only been going out a year and a half, but I asked him about rent anyway. "He was like, 'Let's just do it by ratio of our salaries.' So I told him, 'This is my salary. Let me know how much I need to pay you a month.' He gave me the sum, and I was like, 'Holy shit, how much are you earning?' He was earning three to four times as much as I thought he was." What was the sum? "Our one-bedroom apartment is about $3,200 a month, and I pay $500."
Did that knowledge affect your relationship at all? "Nothing in our relationship changed at all, but I did have a little bit of insecurity for my own job. At that point I was trying to find my third job in three and a half years, and it just made me think, again and again, you know, I took marketing, not accounting. I didn't go into consulting or finance. "It always makes me think, Did I choose the wrong career? Is marketing too unstable of a path? Will I ever reach that level of a salary...? Or anything close to it? It’s a little bit of an internal conflict with my personal insecurities. I do think [about] what my life would be like if I had just gone for consulting." What was your takeaway from other Not A Trophy Wife interviews?"When I read the first article, I was kind of like, It seems like she does sound really constrained. And I don’t know if I’m spoiled or I'm just budgeting differently, because I don’t feel limited in any way. My rent is no longer 50% of my paycheck, and I earn a lot more now, so I can afford a lot more."
How do you split money nowadays?"We take turns paying for things now. We’ve gotten into the habit of eating out on the weekend, and I’m kind of a foodie so I like going out a lot. So it'll be like, I’ll pay for Friday, and he’ll pay for Saturday. We don't have a spreadsheet; we don't divide things down the line. We just never really think about it. I guess we just trust each other to not take advantage of the system." "Because I never grew up with a lot of allowance or income, I never traveled, and I was very reluctant to travel with my boyfriend at first. I was stingy, and I didn't want to spend my money on travel. But his family would always take him and his sister traveling all over Europe, so he always wanted to go somewhere. I think he got the sense that I didn’t understand it, so he started gifting me with holidays. For my birthday, he gave me a holiday to Paris. For my last birthday, he gave me a holiday trip to Italy. But I always make sure we use miles as much as we can, and we've never gone to a place I can't afford. We plan together based on interest, which makes sense. We both would love to go to the Maldives, for example, but compared to the Philippines, we’d much rather spend money in the Philippines."
Has anything else changed during the time you two have dated?
Do you try to even out expenses? "Yeah. For example, we’re trying to do more U.S. trips, since we’re both from outside the U.S. We haven’t explored Chicago or Nashville or Portland, and I will usually gift those trips to him. And because he pays a lot more in rent, I make sure that I pay for groceries and other things we're using equally. "The one thing I do budget really hard for is presents for anniversaries, birthday, Christmas, and Valentine's Day. I really like giving gifts. Over the year, my spending is pretty flexible, but if I'm planning to get him a present, I'll move money out of my 'frivolous spending' budget, which includes hair, shopping, whatever. I definitely shop less when I budget for my boyfriend." "The most expensive gift I bought him was probably $1,000 or $1,200 — it was a lot of things rather than one big thing. It was like something on Kickstarter that cost $500, some tech gadget that cost $300, clothes, and it all added up to quite a lot. But I live with him, and I know he doesn't spend money on himself. He doesn’t really like shopping, so I'll just say, 'Oh, you’ve been complaining that you don't have a nice blazer, so here's a nice blazer.'" What's the most expensive gift you've given him?
Is there anything you wouldn't accept from him? "The only time he offered something that I didn’t accept was when I was out of a job and struggling. He was like, 'Do you need money? I can just help you out, and I can pay for your bills.' But the one thing I've always said when anyone mentions marriage between me and my boyfriend is that I would only be okay with getting married when the other person looks at my bank account and isn't like, 'Where are your savings? Why do you only have like, $500 in savings?' Which is a hyperbole, but it's just like, I need to feel financially stable and happy before getting married. I just don’t think it’s fair to rely on someone and not be able to take care of yourself."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.