Jenna Berry never planned on being the family breadwinner.
Her income is $60,000 a year after tax. At the time her husband, Mike Barry, 33, was bringing home around $30,000 in net income working full-time as a produce clerk at a grocery store in Port Perry, Ont.
The couple figured full-time daycare for their daughter, Grace, was going to swallow up most of Mike’s earnings. It just didn’t seem worth it.
They agreed Mike would become a part-time stay-at home dad, working only two shifts per week on average, just to bring in some extra income. And Jenna took on the full responsibility of supporting the family.
WATCH: People need to talk about their finances to alleviate money-related stress
The Berrys’ financial arrangement is hardly a rarity anymore. In Canada, around 30 per cent of heterosexual married couples rely on the wife to bring home the majority or all of the family’s employment income, according to Statistics Canada. In the U.S., that number stood at 22.5 per cent in 2011.
As a result, the “money talk” about who should stop working or resize their careers if it becomes impossible for both partners to pursue their ambitions is increasingly ending with women, not men, stepping to the financial helm.
But that can lead to tensions, studies show.
Famously, a 2013 University of Chicago paper found that married couples where the wife earns more than the husband are more likely to divorce. Researchers also noted that in these couples, the wife is likely to take on a larger share of household work, a behaviour they interpreted as an attempt to “assuage the husband’s unease with the situation.”
The study also found that dating was less likely to turn into marriage when women became more likely to earn more than their male partners. And married women with the potential to make more money than their significant others were likely to start working less or drop out of the labour force entirely.
A recent article published in the American Sociological Review found that both men and women who are financially dependent on their partner are more likely to cheat.
WATCH: Money troubles trump cheating, survey shows
But it doesn’t have to be so. And it isn’t for Jenna and Mike Berry.
The couple, who had been dating since Jenna was 15 before getting married, always knew she would bring home the bigger paycheque.
“I always knew I was going to university. For Mike, for whatever reason, that was never the plan,” says Jenna.
Their profile matches the trend for families with female breadwinners in both Canada and the U.S.: Women with a higher level of education are more likely to live in families where they’re the main source of income, data shows.
But even when the birth of their daughter forced Mike to curtail his hours, further exacerbating the income disparity, harmony continued to rein, the couple say.
So how did they make it work?
Of course, a frank discussion about who’s going to do what around the house is essential, says Jenna. But how you manage the family finances is also key, she notes.
WATCH: Couples need to be open with each other about financial problems before it becomes a major issue in a marriage
Here are some tips:
All the big financial decisions should be made together
Even though Jenna is in charge of paying the bills and filing taxes, all major financial decisions are made together, she says.
That’s the way to do it, according to experts, too.
“One of you will likely manage the bulk of the day-to-day finances, but it is crucial for you both to be integrated with decision-making and invested in discussions about long-term priorities,” writes wealth manager Jen Dawson on Investopedia.
She also suggests couples set aside some time at least once a year to go over their finances.
Keep shared chequing and savings accounts
Another important arrangement is having shared banking accounts, said Jenna. This guaranteed that Mike never had to ask her for money when his income dropped by more than half after he took on the lion’s share of childcare duties.
Deemphasizing the importance of money is a crucial piece of the puzzle for Farnoosh Torabi, a financial expert and the author of “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.” It’s essential that both partners feel valued for what they do, whether it’s bringing home a paycheque or child rearing. An excessive focus on where the money is coming from breeds resentment, warns Torabi.
Get life insurance
Here’s another piece of advice that applies to any couple where one partner contributes a significantly larger share of the family income: get life insurance. This is especially important for couples with dependents and those with significant debt.
Set up a spousal RRSP
Spousal RRSPs allow you to contribute on behalf of your spouse or common-law partner up to your annual contribution ceiling. They’re ideal for couples where one person makes much more than the other as they allow retirement savings to be split equally.
The Berrys don’t have one set up yet, but it’s on their to-do list.