Tuesday, 12 July 2016

How and why my wife earns more than me

I'm writing this post for myself just as much as for my wife, who might actually read this one since it has less numbers and figures compared to some of my previous posts. This is going to be a fun and interesting one to write about.

It starts with a confession: In our past six years of full-time work, my wife has always out earned me when it comes to our salaries. Not only have I never earned more than my wife, the wage gap has increased over time.

This is why I totally get the debate about gender wage gap - equal pay for men and women. Haha.

One of the biggest benefits of meeting your wife during university before going on to work and build your career is that you get the opportunity to make the transitions together. We got together at a time when money mattered less and we are moving towards a future where money matters more.

It gives me perspective when I look back at how far we have come together and especially so on how much we have progressed individually. In this aspect, I have to say my wife has grown and matured much more than I could have imagined.

As such, this post is my view on how and why my wife earns more than me. It will have my honest thoughts and feelings on the journey we have travelled together on so far to be able to achieve this. And yes, I do see it as an achievement that my wife is out earning me and this should let you understand why it is the case.
More complete skill set

Having studied in Singapore, a place where academic excellence is generally rewarded with better career prospects, studying in Melbourne was a new experience for both of us. You see, the focus in Australia tends to be more on your overall skill set and less on your academic performance.

Even though I am more academically inclined than my wife, she was performing better during the graduate job interviews in our final year. It actually took me a while then to admit this (I was young after all) but I realised it when my wife landed the graduate job role at one of the big domestic banks in Melbourne. She had much stronger corporate skills in teamwork, communication, presentation etc.

Although I was able to subsequently land a graduate job role at one of the mid-tier accounting firms in Melbourne (albeit much later), there was an observable difference in starting salaries. The truth is that as much as a couple would like to go through life at the same pace and enjoy the same success, it almost never happens in reality. What's more important is that you find a way to work together and contribute to the relationship and to each other's success.

Higher starting salary

Although we both studied accounting at university, the different industries we work in meant that there can be significant differences in the growth of our salaries. In short, a bank will almost always pay more than an accounting firm even if you end up working more hours at the latter.

Stronger professional network

In the four years of work in Melbourne and Sydney, it became obvious that my wife was able to better navigate the corporate world  as well. Let's put it this way. Career promotion and job opportunities rely on your ability to network professionally & socially as much as your technical knowledge and capability.

Never underestimate the importance of having drinks with your colleagues because that's just how you get access to information sometimes. To be honest, I never understood it, which is why I didn't hang out with my colleagues as much. I only started to do it more when I was in Sydney, a good three years after my wife took to it within six months. That's how my wife was able to seek out a position in Sydney after having done a six month rotation there earlier.

Better pay negotiation when changing jobs

At some point in time during those first two years in Melbourne, I accepted that there was a good chance my wife was probably going to be earning more than me for the rest of my life. I can either do my best to support my wife's career development or focus on mine and risk limiting her potential. That's why I transferred to the Sydney office from Melbourne to be with her.

Besides, the attempt at a long-distance relationship during the six month rotation was terrible. It continues to be one of the lowest points of our relationship having to be away from each other. We ended up spending a bucket load of money on flights to visit each other every weekend. 23 weekends & flights to be exact and I can still remember the number to this day.

A combination of career manoeuvres and opportunistic timing put my wife in a decent position to be relocated to Singapore. Naturally, I had to quit my job and find another role in an accounting firm in Singapore. Haha. I know this sounds bad to some people. You know, after a while, you just want to see how far your wife can go in her career.

What was even more fascinating was how my wife negotiated for a higher salary each time she had to move. Even with the relocation benefits, my wife felt she deserved a higher pay and asked for it. Does this just come naturally to her!? I have to remember to ask her that one day.

So here we are with my wife's salary significantly higher than mine. I'm sure you are asking yourself what is the point of this post. In any relationship, true equality is almost never going to exist because the two people are going to have different strengths and weaknesses. Progress is also almost always going to be uneven and even one-sided at times.

The Asian cultural norm continues to learn towards the man being the main breadwinner and financial provider. This is proof that it can change and should change as long as both parties work together. Besides, there are many other ways for me to contribute and put my skill sets to use.

Since I do better in the research and management aspect of our funds, I'm responsible for asset allocation, investment and cash deployment to achieve higher returns and increase our passive income. As a tax accountant, I also implement strategies to reduce our income tax payable such as ensuring we claim the available tax reliefs and deductions.

Learning to draw on our individuals strengths contributed to our financial position as a couple. If anything, we have achieved much more together than we probably could have as individuals and this is something I continue to be happy and grateful about.


  1. HI TFS,

    A very interesting and refreshing topic, one that I'm sure not many would be willing or likely to talk about. I enjoyed reading it a lot.

    While I wouldn't say we're in the exact same shoes, I can sort of identify with the situation. Fresh out of university, my wife got a stable and higher paying job earlier than me. It probably took me half a year later to settle on something permanent, and even then my growth in the first two years were slow - much younger then, and plenty of negative thoughts.

    Then, a series of events skyrocketed my responsibilities and pay, whereas my wife's was starting to stagnate. She eventually quit her job to pursue something in another industry. Starting from zero, it was really tough initially but she did extremely well in her second and third year, whereas my subsequent job change didn't fare anywhere as good as hers.

    Even today, we're still facing the same topsy-turvy situations as we're both navigating job changes in the near future.

    Smooth-sailing isn't for everyone, and we all have to play to our strengths as individuals, and communicate as a couple. Happy to know that things are working out for you two!


    1. Hi Kevin,

      Thanks! Yup, the progress of both parties in a couple is usually quite uneven. But it's great that your wife and you are working together well to navigate the challenges!


  2. Hi TFS

    This is heartwarming, especially for someone like me aspiring to be house husband. haha

    Too early to conclude. If you and your wife are planning for children, having 2 or more kids may alow down your wife career progression? Just generalising

    1. Hi Frugal Daddy,

      When we were moving back to Singapore from Sydney, I briefly considered being a house husband. But without kids, I really am just looking after the house. So my wife shot the idea down!

      I would think my wife's career path might plateau for a bit if we decide to have children. Maybe a chance to catch up then!