When the Woman Is More Successful Than the ManI know a number of men who seemed to make a point of marrying women who posed no threat of outshining their achievements—or even matching them. This viewpoint is no surprise in light of research by psychologists Kate Ratliff of the University of Florida and Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In one experiment conducted with 32 male/female dating couples, the participants were given a test they were told measured their intelligence. The test was not graded, but each participant was informed that his or her partner scored in either the top 12% or bottom 12%. The men who had been told they had high-scoring partners measured lower on a self-esteem test than the men who thought their female partners scored low.

Other studies have also shown that men often regard their female partners’ success as a reflection on them; if she succeeds more, it means he has failed. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to see the man’s success as good for the relationship overall.[/pullquote]In another experiment with 122 men and women who were involved in heterosexual relationships but weren’t couples, the males scored higher on a measure of self-esteem when recalling a time when their partner had failed at an intellectual or social endeavor. The result was quite different for women. “Unlike men, even when women were explicitly asked to think of [a] time when their partner succeeded and they themselves failed, their implicit self-esteem was not decreased,” stated the researchers.

Other studies have also shown that men often regard their female partners’ success as a reflection on them; if she succeeds more, it means he has failed. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to see the man’s success as good for the relationship overall. They also tend to view their own success in terms of its value for the relationship, rather than just being about “me.” These differences in perspective are not surprising, considering traditional gender roles. “Because men and women have different social roles, different expectations for their close relationships, and different responses to competition, it is likely that men and women’s self-esteem is differentially impacted by a romantic partner’s success or failure,” Drs. Ratliff and Oishi wrote in their published report.

When the Woman Is More Successful Than the Man
What’s a “Feminist”? Many people don’t understand that feminism simply means equality between the sexes—and that it can be espoused by both women and men. The depth of misunderstanding was made clear by a 2013 Huffington Post poll of 1,000 adults in which 82% of men and women said there should be equality between the sexes but only 20% called themselves feminist. What’s more, 37% of respondents considered feminism a negative term; only 26% thought it was positive. The misconception that feminism is a female protest movement against men is widespread. But “the last thing feminism is about is exclusion,” said Regina Barreca, Ph.D., in Psychology Today. “Feminists can be defined as those women and men who recognize that the earth doesn’t revolve around anybody’s son—or around any one group.” 


One explanation for men’s reaction is that they fear their mate might seek out a more appealing man, according to Mark White, Ph.D., chair of the philosophy department at the College of Staten Island/CUNY. “[The man’s] loss of self-esteem may be based on comparing himself to the better men he now feels he has to compete with, as well as comparing himself to his increasingly successful girlfriend or wife,” he wrote in Psychology Today. Traditional attitudes of both men and women are at play here. As Drs. Ratliff and Oishi said, “a success might hurt men’s implicit self-esteem because ambition and success are qualities that are generally important to women when selecting a mate.” The man in this scenario is hit with the double whammy of being jealous of a more successful mate and envious of a higher-achieving male who might steal her away.

In Slate, Amanda Marcotte offers an important call to action for couples based on the research findings. “Feeling insecure and competitive with your partner is no way to live,” she says. “The researchers suggest that these kinds of feelings might be mediated by relearning how to think about gender roles, i.e., becoming more feminist. So add one more study to a growing pile that shows that feminism, despite conservative claims to the contrary, is actually good for couples and for harmony between the sexes.”

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1 Comment

  • Pam
    Posted April 12, 2014 11:39 am 0Likes

    I am dealing with this issue right now. My husband is fast becoming a minority. White, middle age, blue collar worker, whose job is being given to “others” who will work for less. This has been leaving him feeling less than and in addition to this, I keep getting raises albeit not large but steady job and satisfying. On top of that I answer more Jeopardy questions. I joke but I hear comments like “my wife is smarter than me!” Bases on this article if he were to become more of a feminist or to tap into his female side he would be better off. I have to disagree with that assumption however. I want my husband to be a man and think like a man. I like a little macho. What to do…..

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