Do a web search for “female breadwinners in Asia” and you’ll find that in the last decade or so, being female while earning the majority (or sole) of the income to support their family is on the rise. This is promising news despite that on average, women make 15% less than men in Asia.

The decline of the male breadwinner was first noted in 2013 but in the United Kingdom where the female employment rate reached 67.2%, the highest since the Office for National Statistics records began.

Read: Some side hustle ideas to take on if you want to work from home.

From Homemaker To Breadwinner

It wasn’t until the feminist movement in the 1960s that women began to enter the workforce in droves. The considerably late beginnings were partly due to their lack of access to higher education which prevented them from obtaining well-paid jobs and careers of high status.

Even the renowned Cambridge University only fully validated degrees for women late in 1947 – and it was after much arduous deliberation. Imagine, for the longest time, the paradigm allowed men to make more money and inescapably become the breadwinner… until now.

Times are a-changin’

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While women entering the workforce was a great thing on all practical levels,  on a more personal plane – the male ego wasn’t doing so great.

In a study from the University of Bath examining 6,000 heterosexual married couples for 15 years, they found that men felt the most anxious when they were the sole breadwinner in the family but less stressed when their women partners contributed 40% to the household income. However, as women made more money, men became “increasingly uncomfortable” and stressed. 

According to the study, the reason was due to traditional social gender norms suggesting that men should be the breadwinners in relationships.

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Moving forward, things have changed for the better and there are many more female breadwinners out there, but the mind and heart still need convincing for some.

Break the stigma, normalise female breadwinners

Without a doubt, women are more than capable of becoming breadwinners in this day and age so let’s not make it a big deal. But there is still some stigma in this forward way of life for both women and men. That said, I’ve even heard of some women who lie about how much money they make to please their partners!

Yes, we should celebrate any achievement women have done because let’s face it, we’ve come a long way from fighting for our rights to get an education.  But if we embrace our accomplishments without any gender assignments, perhaps the stigma will go away.

Wouldn’t you rather be known as a “Boss” and not a “Lady Boss”?  I don’t know about you, but if I were referred to as the latter, I’d feel as though the title was a warning to my employers.

Female breadwinners speak up

RK, 41, a general manager in a Malaysian marketing firm, has been the main breadwinner since the start of her relationship with her husband. She says, “In the current landscape it is actually very common for women to be earning more than men. I do not feel that it is a big issue.” Their families are also very supportive of the “unconventional” gender norm.

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For Camille (not her real name), 45, a Malaysian who holds a director-level position at a leading property company in Singapore, like RK, has also been the main income earner since the day she met her husband of over 15 years.

“For my husband and I, it was the belief and desire that one of us stay at home to be more hands-on with the kids. We made the call that we’d follow my career – because of my passion for it and earning potential; he was less passionate about his.”

Although Camille’s family is proud and feels reassured that she can take care of herself should anything happen in the marriage, her in-laws worry for their son. 

“If this marriage doesn’t work out, it would put him in a very tough spot, having not worked for 15 years. Plus, his family still feels strongly about traditional gender roles – that it is the man who should be providing“

Read: Why Southeast Asian women are afraid to talk about money.

Communication As The Holy Grail

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When asked what make a marriage work in their current arrangement, Camille said it takes a confident man who doesn’t feel emasculated to be the stay-at-home parent.

Both women believe that understanding, conversation and communication is key to ensuring each other’s needs are being met is very important. Also, having a strong support system that supports their way of life also helps.

Like any breadwinner, both RK and Camille feel the pressure to earn even more so as not to worry about finances. They also get similar comments about being their family’s breadwinner from, “Oh wow, that’s cool” to “You are such a superwoman, such an inspiration”.

Is what they do amazing, regardless of gender? Yes.

Would they switch roles with their partners? No.