Spousal Income Gaps: When Only One Spouse Is A Physician

Last updated Sep 4, 2021 | Published on Sep 6, 2021

In the United States, there is a significant difference in income between doctors and non-doctors. In fact, according to one study, the average physician makes $242,000 while the average American earns just over $48,000. When both spouses are physicians, this income gap continues to exist, but it may not be as significant. However, when only one spouse is a physician (and often they’re female), there is often an economic disparity that can potentially lead to marital stress and divorce.

Let’s look at the financial disparities emerging in relationships and how to deal with them without ruining the relationship.

Table of Contents:

Spousal Income Gap

Not all doctors marry another doctor! It is not uncommon for a physician to be married to someone with another type of profession. It’s no secret that doctors often make a lot more money than the average person. The difference in salaries between a doctor and another type of profession can be staggering.

For many couples, this gap is difficult to deal with. Arguments may spring upon how to split the expenses and how to spend the money. A financial imbalance can cause disagreements, controlling behavior, guilt, resentment, and separation.

The issue of financial imbalance does surface in every relationship. Whether one spouse brings home more or less income than the other, the financial imbalance can be a major source of struggle in a relationship. One spouse may feel like they’re not contributing as much financially, while the other feels like they’re doing all the work. It can have an impact on both couples’ finances and emotional well-being.

Conflicts In Your Relationship

Income gap is a known and recognized source of conflict among couples. Different spending habits and attitudes towards money can take a toll on the relationship. The larger the income gap, the more potential is for friction.

Let’s look at common issues that can arise between spouses due to income disparity:

Feelings Of Guilt

Feelings of guilt usually occur in low-earning partners since they cannot make much money. Such feelings may prevent them from addressing their own material wants and needs. Ultimately, their feelings will make them unhappy with their quality of life.

Higher earning partners may also feel guilty if they have had advancements in their career compared to their partners. It can negatively impact the relationship during communication and make them feel taken for granted if their spouse isn’t contributing.

Financial Infidelity

Withholding financial information, lying about money, or overspending habits may spring up when income inequality occurs. The spouse spending more than a fair share may try to cover up to avoid marital conflict or being judged for non-essential purchases.

The spouse earning more may choose to hide their expenses, purchases, or financial decisions to avoid flaunting their higher-income around their partner.

Resentment

When there is significant income disparity, resentment can develop within a couple. The spouse earning more may resent unbalanced expenditures or the need to shoulder the majority of the financial burdens. They may also feel that they work harder to make more money, and their partner should also put the same amount of effort to earn more income.

The spouse who earns less income might end up resenting their partner’s success or their career demands.

Power Struggle

Money equates to power. The partner who earns the higher income tends to take charge of financial decisions and determines the household dynamics. It can result in inequality within the family, leading to judgment and feelings of superiority beyond financial decisions.

How To Deal With Income Gap Issues

A financial imbalance can impact your relationship or marriage in many ways. It is important to sit on the same side of the table regardless of each person’s income financially. You can address the financial disparity issues and prevent conflicts by following the below ideas:

Open Communication

The best way to resolve any issue in a relationship is to have open communication. It might not be easy to open up, but talking about your feelings is important to have a healthy relationship. Start a conversation in a positive tone without accusing the other of wrongdoing.

Having an open talk can help resolve financial issues and other associated problems.

Create a Budget

Making a realistic budget will help you determine your income and expenses. It will help you set financial goals, clear up concerns about where the money goes, and determine each partner’s contributions and the discretionary amount each person gets to enjoy.

Working out financial plans together as a couple can eliminate any feelings of resentment or guilt.

Basic Financial Considerations

Taking a closer look at your finances can help you delineate who pays the bills, whether contributions are equal, whether to maintain separate accounts or joint accounts, etc. Deciding and agreeing on the finances can let both partners feel empowered and relevant.

Recognize Contributions Outside of Salary

Beyond money, there are other contributions made in a relationship. The low-earning partner may be caring for the children, keeping the household organized, cooking, cleaning, etc. All these things must be considered and valued.

Enjoy Life Together

Use your leftover cash from successful budgeting by having a low-key dinner at your favorite restaurant or going on a vacation. Enjoying your money together will make you feel closer than ever.

Benefits Of Spousal Income Gap

Though financial disparity can cause unnecessary strife in a relationship, it can be beneficial in maintaining a healthy relationship in the long run.

Professional Lives

Both partners can live their independent professional lives regardless of their income. They may have an opportunity to advance in their profession without many obstacles.

Respect

Spouses will have little room to compare their professions and will try to respect each other’s work. Hence, it minimizes potential ego clashes.

Flexibility

Physicians have unpredictable schedules, on-call after hours, work long hours, emergencies, etc., whereas other professions mostly have fixed timings. The partner with a 9-5 job may have a relaxed work schedule and plan on family engagements, thus reducing the burden on the other.

Finance

Financial state in the initial years of medicine can be a struggle. The other spouse can take charge of financial situations like paying bills, running the family, etc., further reducing the financial burden on the other spouse.

Family

Due to the busy and unpredictable schedules, the other partner might take care of the home situation, care for the children and other family members, organize kid’s birthday parties, help them with school work, etc.

Mental and Physical Health

Physicians have extremely demanding jobs and have a high risk of depression, other mental illnesses, and suicide. A partner’s contribution towards the household, regardless of the income, can enhance the mental and physical well-being of the other partner.

Don’t Let Income Disparity Ruin Your Relationship

A strong sense of self-worth is a key ingredient in overcoming spousal income gaps. Planning together and valuing each other regardless of the income can go a long way towards maintaining a healthy relationship.

It’s important to find your own success especially when you are married to someone who makes significantly more money or less than you do! Money imbalance with other unresolved issues can cause breakups or divorce.

Irrespective of salary differences, working together can balance each other out. Fostering teamwork and valuing each other’s contributions will go a long way toward having a strong, healthy relationship despite the financial disparity.

4 Comments

  1. Ray

    Spot on for my wife and me. I could not have survived a medical career without her at home contributions. She ran the family, paid the bills, performed home repairs, fixed cars etc. These intangible contributions nonetheless helped me both monetarily, physically, and mentally. All my money went into one pot from which both she and I withdrew to fund entertainment, monthly expenses, and investments for retirement. It worked out well, and we have survived the many guilty feelings of both spouses when income in equality exists in a relationship. Nice article.

    • L4Z

      Thank you, Ray! Appreciate your personal insight, as well.

  2. Cory Fawcett, MD, CHPC

    Thanks for addressing this. My wife became a stay home mom when I became an attending and we consider everything equal even though I earn the money. There was so much that she contributed that was not money. I plan to add this to Fawcett’s Favorites on Monday.
    Thanks,
    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Financial Success MD

    • L4Z

      Yes, that is SUCH an important point that contributions to a partnership don’t need to be financial. There are many other ways to contribute – time, energy, resources, etc. Thank you for the exposure through Fawcett’s Favorites!

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