I admit it. When I fell in love with Rob, his earnings were the furthest thing from my mind.
We had several conversations about money before we were engaged and married, but only one about his earnings. Specifically, I told him that he needed to figure out how to earn more money before we had kids. He told me that shouldn't be a problem, and based on the amount of time he put into job searching and networking, I believed him.
I don't know why I told him to earn more money. I didn't particularly want to give up my career for kids, but Rob definitely did not (and does not) want to stay home full time with kids, and it seemed like we better have the option for one of us to stay home, and by one of us, I guess I meant myself. Sometimes our subliminal mind knows more about our real self than our conscious mind.
I told him that he should really earn at least $65K, but he was probably worth at least $75K. A few months later, Rob got a job paying around $75K per year, but then he quit to go back to school, and we had a baby all at the same time. The best laid plans... (How does that phrase end anyhow?).
Anyhow, even though Rob is not currently a high earner, and I don't have any guarantee that he will be a high earner in the future, I will still stand by the recommendation that most women should not date men who cannot earn enough money to support a family on their income. By that I mean that in low-mid cost of living areas, don't marry men who aren't on track to earn around $60K per year by the time you start a family. I expect that this isn't a popular opinion, but I still think it's something that needs to be said, and these are three reasons why.
Most women have children, and they love said children
If you're a single woman over age 40, you can probably ignore this advice. You can marry whoever you want, including a starving artist.
However, as of today, only about 15% of women over age 40 don't have children. Trends seem to indicate that within 15 years (when I hit age 43), about 20% of women over age 40 won't have children. That means that 80% of women will have children.
80% is about as close to certainty as you can get in this life. As such, if you are a woman under age 40, I recommend that you predict that you will have a child in your life. Even if you don't want children, I can pretty well guarantee that if you do have a child, you'll really love that child a lot, and want to provide the best life you can for that child.
Part of providing for a child is dedicating a lot of time to said child, particularly at a young age. I think it's incredibly valuable and not at all selfish for women to want to have the option to drop out of the workforce for a few years to give time to these kids. If you don't marry a man who can support your family for a few years while you're out of the workforce, then you don't have this option unless you somehow create it yourself.
I'm not saying you're a bad mom if you don't exercise the option to stay at home with your kids. I am saying that if you're married to someone who earns less than $60K per year, you probably don't have the option to stay home with kids (and not simultaneously live in a state of constant financial stress).
Children make earning "enough" enormously difficult
The median wage for a 30 year old woman who is working full time today is $30K. (30 year old men, are also earning comparably paltry salaries at $35K- the earnings problem is a topic for another day).
On the other hand, the average cost for putting a single child in daycare is $11K per year. The difference between the two, $19K, is equivalent to earning less than $10/hr. I'm not saying there are no circumstances that are worth earning less than $10/hr, but I will say that if your spouse earns enough, then $10/hr isn't worth it.
Stable jobs that pay more than the median, tend to require a little more than the median in terms of emotional investment. I earn much more than the median, and I devote way more emotional energy to my job than to my family. It sucks. I hate that.
On the other hand, I can't imagine it would be worth it to put in full time hours and earn less than I'm earning just to not put in as much emotional investment.
Thus, the reality that having children makes earning enough difficult. It's not that children aren't worthwhile, it's that they are expensive to put in daycare.
Devoting 10-15 years to raising children is admirable, but not lucrative
Many women who drop out of the workforce, aren't dropping out for 1-2 years. Instead, they drop out until their youngest child is school aged. If you have two kids three years apart, then this means 8-9 years out of the workforce. If you add a third kid to the mix, or an extra year between the two, your talking 10-15 years. A family might be able to deal with negative cash flow for a year or two (particularly with good planning), but families can't do that for 10-15 years.
I think it's wonderful that many women want to devote the bulk of their time to raising their children. In fact, only 20% of women who are mothers actually want to work full time when they have kids. So, if you are a woman who eventually will have a child, and who would like the chance to live the life you want, then you need a husband who can financially support you.
Yes, that means you need to marry someone who earns a certain amount of money, and that amount of money is not $35K... it's more like $60K (unless you're a super-frugalar and okay with that).
If you think I'm being shallow
To me, it's incredibly obvious that many women want to be stay at home moms or mostly stay at home moms. The way that becoming a stay at home mom happens is by marrying someone who can and will support that lifestyle. That means earning enough money, and being willing to bear most of the financial earning burden.
The entire process of dating, getting engaged, etc. is about finding someone who will share his life with you, and with whom you will share yours. It makes sense for women to consider more than personality compatability when picking out a spouse. And by consider something more, I obviously mean, you should consider their income and their potential future income too.
I'm not saying that marrying a man who earns $60K per year guarantees happiness or that earning less than that is somehow a character flaw. Rather, I'm saying that women who marry someone who earns less effectively cut themselves off from the option of staying home in the future. The only way I see that being a good idea is if as a woman, you're excited to date a guy who wants to stay home with kids in the future. Thus, the majority of women should not even date men who earn less than $60k per year.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.