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Friday, Dec 9, 2022

Trading Places

Tanja Cebula is a senior executive at Costa Mesa’s Resources Connection Inc. She makes more money than her husband, John.

She is not alone.

A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study reported that 8.3 million wives make more money than their husbands. In other words, in one out of every four American dual-career couples, the woman is the major breadwinner. There are a number of explanations for this.

More women are choosing high paying professions and careers.

More women are starting companies, paying themselves well, and going public. More women have had stock options in technology and investment firms that made them rich.

More women are marrying older men who are retired, and more women are choosing not to have children, which allows them to focus on their careers and compete with men for the big bucks.

More women are marrying artists, writers, teachers or men in lower-paying professions.

The volatility of the economy has resulted in scores of men losing their jobs and finding themselves the logical one to stay home.

Tanja and John Cebula started out as a dual-career couple. They both are CPAs with master’s degrees. They both were working full time when they met, married and became parents of a daughter and twin sons.

Tanja was managing the Portland, Ore., office of Resources, an offshoot of Deloitte & Touche, and John was the controller of the University of Portland. Tanja was offered more money and great career potential in Orange County. So they decided to move.

They discussed how best to divide responsibilities. John volunteered to stay home with the children. He could have gotten a job in OC but they decided they wanted one parent at home,admittedly a luxury not all couples can afford.

John did all the housework and child rearing until recently, when they hired some help. He also handles the family investments and is starting up a part-time business.

He coaches kids, and attends PTA meetings where he is the only guy. He says it’s fun because he gets lots of attention.

John has high self-esteem. When he tells others that he is retired, he often gets a funny look. He then explains he’s a stay-at-home dad and receives responses from “You are one lucky guy” to “There’s no way in hell I would stay home with the kids.”

Tanja has a bright career future and loves what she does. In no way does she feel the relationship with her children has been jeopardized. She considers her family responsibilities as important as her career and spends “quality time” with her husband and children.

When first asked by the kids why it was daddy who stayed home, Tanja and John told them they decided it was best for all of them. They include their children in all discussions about their non-traditional arrangement.

The Cebulas were the only one of twelve couples interviewed that agreed to have their names used in this article.

In the other cases, the males, while they said they enjoyed their roles, did not want to be identified in print. (But then there is Hogan Hilling, an OC stay-at-home dad who calls himself a “Rebel Dad” with his own Web site on the issue, www.rebeldad.com)

The reticence of the other men to be identified is not surprising, given tradition: Historically, the husband has been the breadwinner.

This is why most men define themselves in terms of their job, title and how much money they make. In addition, being the breadwinner provides a measure of power and control, thus in marriages where power and control are an issue, when a wife makes more than her husband, a marriage is probably headed for trouble.

Women tend to understand the difficulties men may experience when they are not the primary breadwinners and so soft-pedal their financial situation.

In most dual-career families, discussion of who should be the major breadwinner focuses on who has the most potential, who most likes his or her job, and, in cases where there are children, what is best for the youngsters.

While some men are embarrassed by making less money than their wives, others feel a sense of freedom not having to be the “financial heavy.”

Clearly, early sex-role expectations spill over into the workplace. Successful men are expected to be breadwinners. Successful women mothers and homemakers. Fortunately, for both men and women, the definition of success is changing. No longer are stay-at-home dads always seen as unmanly, nor breadwinner women seen as tough and uncaring mothers.

Clearly, as Yogi Berra said, “The future ‘aint what it used to be.” While the wife as breadwinner, and husband as “daily dad” may not be for everyone, it’s a lifestyle choice whose time has come.

Rosener, Ph.D., is a professor in UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business and a noted author and speaker.

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