It seems impossible to avoid the topic of Taylor Swift’s relationship with Travis Kelce these days. As I write this, the Chiefs game is on in my very own living room – apparently because they’re doing well this season, not because my husband cares about Taylor Swift. The budding romance has also surfaced questions in my own zeitgeist, predominantly around what happens in a relationship when the woman earns more, a scenario that is becoming more and more prevalent as women continue to attend college and enter the workforce in higher numbers each year. In nearly one out of every three heterosexual marriages, according to a study by Pew Research, women earn as much as or more than their male counterparts, up from only one in ten households in 1980.
Societal Expectations of Gender Roles Persist Despite Benefits of Women Earning More
Even as women have made strides to close the wage gap over the decades, societal expectations around who should be the higher earner in a relationship still skew toward men. One alarming study from 2019 found that male stress levels actually rise if their wives earn more than 40% of the household income, proving that gender expectations and stereotypes continue to play a role in modern relationships. The Swift-Kelce household far exceeds that percentage. Taylor’s reported annual income of $92 million in 2022 dwarfs Kelce’s $14 million, equating to nearly 90% of their combined annual income.
Despite societal expectations, research also suggests that the burden of being the family breadwinner has a negative impact on men’s health. This negative toll is not reflected in data amongst women, whose psychological well-being actually increases as they earn more. The rise in women breadwinners, therefore, or at the very least women earning a meaningful percentage of the family’s income, should have a net positive impact on households and in relationships.
Regardless, ingrained expectations around masculinity and men serving as the providers in the family can still result in tension in relationships where the woman brings in the lion’s share of the income. Research shows that marriages in which the wife earns more than her husband are 50% more at risk of divorce, and tend to report lower overall satisfaction with their marriage.
Taylor and Travis Face Multiple Financial Hurdles
In addition to overcoming biases around gender roles in the relationship, Taylor and Travis will also have to contend with the fact that he is not able to financially sustain living at Taylor’s lifestyle. The cost of one of Taylor’s reported three private jets is nearly two years of Kelce’s salary alone, at an estimated $26 million. As absurd as the numbers are, the drastic income differential can indeed become problematic, particularly when it comes to power dynamics within the partnership.
Significant challenges can arise if the lower-earning partner does not feel they have a say in financial decisions, or begins to harbor concerns about the relationship ending. The fear of not being able to maintain the accustomed standard of living may lead to feelings of financial insecurity, causing them to withdraw from financial discussions or, worse, avoid them altogether. This growing financial insecurity could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, potentially jeopardizing the stability of the relationship.
It’s Not About the Money
Often, when financial disagreements arise in a relationship, they tend to be surface-level symptoms masking deeper underlying issues. Couples can fall into a counterproductive cycle when they attempt to address the surface-level symptoms rather than delving deeper to tackle the root causes. For instance, a husband who says he feels emasculated by his wife’s income and financial control may actually be deeply unhappy in his career and need a change. Zeroing in solely on the wife’s earnings without addressing the underlying career-related concerns fails to resolve the core issue, resulting in ongoing marital challenges.
Bring in The Professionals
To be clear, I am not a therapist, but I have long observed the significant interplay between money and psychology. Addressing the psychological aspects is often essential to bring about meaningful change in a person’s financial situation. Although tempting to offer one-size-fits-all advice to couples grappling with challenges stemming from a higher-earning wife, practical solutions alone often fall short of resolving the core issues. Couples who find themselves in repeated financial disagreements should consider involving a therapist in addition to a financial advisor. These professionals can help unearth the deeper, underlying issues that are manifesting as financial conflicts.
As for Taylor and Travis, I hope that they find enduring happiness together. And if they ever do find themselves at odds over finances, I would encourage them to seek guidance from professionals who can help them focus on the underlying emotional triggers first, before diving into the actual numbers.