Within marriage there tends to be a predominate breadwinner, and for a long time, that breadwinner was usually the husband. Times have changed, though, making traditional marriage roles almost twice as likely to be switched, or at least intermingled. Throw in divorce and alimony payments into the mix and you have the possibility of even more role switching. How either sex feels about the matter seems to be a side note to the fact that these changes are happening surely and quickly.
It’s common for the main earner to confer a set alimony payment regularly to the lesser earner after divorce until one or the other ex-spouse dies. Normally this payment plan is determined by a court-ruling during a contested divorce, as opposed to uncontested divorce, unless the couple decides to make the arrangement themselves. With many women now earning more than their husbands, it is now becoming more common for women to pay alimony upon divorce, directly challenging old gender role notions in the process and creating interesting new tensions.
Women Bringing Home the Bacon and the Alimony
According to Liza Mundy’s Time article, almost 40% of women make more money than their husbands. This means more of them are required to bring home alimony money as well as the bacon after divorcing and moving on. And this makes them rather angry.
Mundy writes, “Their reaction suggests that women, while eager to benefit from the progress and expanded opportunities, are not so willing to accept the more painful consequences of our success.”
It’s possible that this extra animosity is due to the more apparent switch of gender dynamics regarding direct payment. I believe there is still a lingering sense of entitlement for women, mixed with a gentlemanly-prone, patriarchal sense of duty for men to provide money for their ladies. Even though men aren’t thrilled when they are required to pay alimony, it probably feels a little less uncomfortable than vice versa.
Men on the Receiving End
Economically speaking, in past times alimony was largely considered necessary to provide “legal and economic recognition of the fact that a wife had sacrificed her earning power to maximize that of her husband and enhance the welfare of the family.” It therefore makes sense that women should do the same if her husband has been sacrificing his earning opportunities in favor of her’s.
But men also feel angst about it, such as one husband mentioned in the article who stayed home to take care of a new baby while his wife was busy as a lawyer. He described feelings of vulnerability due to his dependence on his wife for monetary sustenance. Vulnerability and American culture’s idea of manhood don’t exactly jive together. Men definitely seem to be the ones having to do the most uncomfortable adjusting when it comes to these changing roles and circumstances.
What Will the Future Bring?
Perhaps personal adjustments regarding gender role changes are necessary and good in the long run. Or maybe there will be system adjustments, such as abolishing alimony altogether. Whatever happens, it’s clear that economic change begets much in the way of social, emotional, and familial changes, especially during the the already tense, and high-strung divorce process. Men and women alike are best suited for these modern changes when they are adaptable.