In October Jenna Lyons, Chief Creative Director at J.Crew, filed for divorce from her husband Vincent Mazeau of nine years. Like many divorces involving people with public personalities, the press is looking for every juicy and messy detail. The media has decided the bad guy in this divorce is Jenna because she made the majority of the money during their relationship so therefore she is being the difficult one in the divorce meaning she is demanding more. If her husband had been the one making more money and paying for their majority of their properties and finances would a finger even be pointed or would it just be another typical divorce? Is there a divorce double standard when it comes to female breadwinners?
With more women in the workforce, some are making more than their male partners. In 2007, a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 26% of wives earned more than their husbands. In 1987, that amount was only 17.8%. And with the recession, that was also called the “mancession,” 75% of the 7 million who lost their jobs were men. So there were more than a few cases where women were the soul breadwinners while their husbands had zero income besides unemployment benefits. And it’s not just here in the U.S. that this trend of women started to make more than their male partners is happening. Last week The Daily Mail announced “The Rise of the Female Breadwinners” with one in five women making more than their partner.
Latest figures show the number of ‘breadwinner wives’ has rocketed to 19%, equal to around 2.7 million women. The research suggests that the proportion of wives or girlfriends whose salary beats their partners will keep on climbing sharply. A further 25% of women earn the same as their husband or boyfriend, which means they could easily overtake them in the future. The figures come from a government commissioned report into economic inequality, published by the National Equality Panel.
“We used what we termed the “institutionalist theory of marriage,” which holds that people are going to get married because they have some idea of what each partner should be doing in a marriage. For marriage today, [that role] for men is still very much tied to being the breadwinner. For women, it appears to be tied to shared caregiving and breadwinning roles. There’s more fluidity around the acceptability of women’s roles than there is around men’s roles. “here’s some evidence showing that men suffer negative outcomes if they choose to prioritize their family, or invest as much time [in their family as they do] in work. There are few indications that the stigma against that “home-maker” role will change in the U.S. any time soon. “
And clearly when it comes to a divorce, the stigmas seem to come out more and all the fluidity in women’s roles seem to dissapeear. Jenna Lyons is an extremely successful person. Jenna has doubled the sales of J.Crew in the last seven years resulting in a company valuation of $1.7 billion and has been the visionary force behind what has become known as the “cult of J.Crew.” If Jenna Lyon’s husband had been the one making most of their fortune during their marriage this would have just been labeled as a typical upper-class divorce where the homemaker wife would maybe have seen a downgrade in terms of her level of comfort but because a woman is the one with the power here, the press is making it out like she has robbed the man who gave up his career to take care of their child and will leave him pennyless.
Since announcing their split in October Lyons and Mazeau have been fighting over their young son Beckett as well as a massive fortune with some considerable properties. Mazeau had been asking for their $4 million Brooklyn townhouse as well as a large settlement, saying that he sacrificed his career to allow Jenna to rise professionally. However, Lyons gave her husband the ability to pursue his artistic career with her J. Crew-funded financially stability. But last week it was reported that the Brooklyn townhouse was sold and Jenna has taken up residence in a 5,000sq ft unit in the landmark American Express Carriage in Tribeca. Because Mazeau did not get the Brooklyn townhouse Jenna so far appears to be “winning” the divorce and has been accused of playing the breadwinner card. But this probably wouldn’t even be discussed if the roles were reversed.
According to a recent survey of both married men and women when it came to their spouse outearning them, 73% of women and 59% of men said they were “comfortable” with the idea of their partner earning more. But when women actually are the breadwinners, this comfort level shifts for both men and women: 87% of said they wouldn’t mind their husbands bringing in more income than they do, and just 42% of men said they were okay with their wife earning more than they do. Perhaps people are not quite as comfortable as they would to be with these new roles.
“All of us like to think we’d be okay if the roles were reversed,” offers Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a nonprofit organization that researches and advocates for female leadership,. “But I have found that, deep down, we’re all a little more tied to traditional gender roles than we realize. When tradition is upended, it surprises us. We don’t know what to do with this new balance of power.”
It seems that when everything is fine and dandy, a couple with a breadwinning woman is called modern and refreshing. But when things start to fall apart the claws start to come out. Perhaps it is because we are more used to seeing the women be victims in a divorce because they don’t have a lot of financial power and don’t get credit for their domestic roles. But now we do have women that have a financial leg to stand on (quite a few million financial legs to stand on) and we accuse them of being difficult and playing the breadwinning card. That’s not refreshing at all.