First of all, blogger now allows stacked comments so you can reply to other people's comments, so let's all just jump for joy on that one and I look forward to adequately replying to your comments.
Secondly, I wanted to talk a little bit about marital earnings. Since I graduated from law school, my husband has outearned me at a rate of at least 2:1. When I was earning nothing, and he was earning everything, that was particularly difficult for me to cope with emotionally. But even now, when I finally make enough to cover my "half" of our rent, and pay for my health insurance, I still feel a little uncomfortable about not earning as much. This is for a few reasons.
1) It makes me feel like I'm not trying very hard. My husband works long hours at a job in a challenging and often difficult environment. I work reasonable hours (10-5) for a boss I really like, who doesn't have outrageous expectations or ever get mad at me when I make a mistake and who is supportive of my job search and where I want my career to go. My job can be really, really, really demanding, but most days it's just sort of hard, and it's not really challenging me the way I want to be challenged. (If you are thinking, "why doesn't she just get a new job?", you clearly don't understand this economy.)
2) It makes me feel like I don't have to take a job just because it pays well. That we earn enough money between us to support both of us and put some in savings means that I can hold out a bit and try to actually build a career in a field that I like. While this is the dream, it is not the reality for many of our friends in this economy and they have taken jobs that they don't enjoy, or they are working crazy hours, and I feel over-privileged that I do not have to make that choice. At the same time, money is a motivating factor to push yourself to find a job that challenges you, and lacking that motivating factor, I'm only applying to jobs that look fun and interesting to me that are geographically well situated for us. (Note: these are jobs like, "Medicaid and Estate Planning" and "Elder Law", not "ice cream taste tester.") This doesn't displease me, but it disquiets me because it's a luxury that not everyone has right now.
3) It makes me feel guilty because I have expensive hobbies. If you are following along, I work less than my spouse, I make less, and I'm the one who is always going to yoga or signing up for a gym or a triathlon or an expensive hockey league. My husband doesn't have pricey hobbies (and the ones he has, he doesn't have time for.) This makes me feel incredibly selfish and I haven't reconciled that feeling yet.
4) I feel like I'm not contributing. You would think that if I wasn't earning as much and had flexible hours, I would do all of the cleaning and the cooking and general housewifery. I don't. I cook dinner most nights because I like to eat before 8pm, and I do almost all of the grocery shopping, but I still don't do the laundry or do the dishes when I make dinner. The bottom line is, I do not think that I am making enough contributions to the marriage to justify that I am making less than half what my spouse makes.
So what do I do about these feelings? The most important thing is to talk about it. I talk about my feelings of inadequacy and discomfort with my husband, and he reassures me that it's fine and he's happy to let me try to build my career and get the experience I need and hold out for a good job. I talk to him before I spend a lot of money on a triathlon or a gym membership, so that he knows I'm not just spending his/our money without thinking it through. I make more of an effort to not make the house messier. I apply to jobs even if I'm not sure that they are the right choice, because I don't want "holding out" to become an excuse for laziness or keep me from getting a job that could be perfect for me, even if it doesn't look that way on paper. I take care of more chore-errands, because I drive to work and get to work later, therefore I can get an oil change before work or stop and pick up some household necessity on the way home. And for the most part, right now we live a lifestyle that I can afford, so I do not feel as if I am living significantly far beyond my means.
Does anybody else have a high income differential in your relationship? Do you struggle with it, or accept it?