Not everyone is like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West — when it comes to personal finance. It’s been well reported that Kim earns nearly three times more than Kanye does. But in average U.S. households, wives out-earning their husbands is still something of a taboo, a study found. A new report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed a curious discovery: Women who out-earn their husbands often underreport their income and their husbands inflate the amount of their earnings.
The data is taken from how couples responded to Census surveys dealing with personal economics and shows that what couples often respond with on those surveys differs from what they report in the tax filings with the IRS.
Misty Heggeness, a senior advisor for evaluations and experiments in research and methodology at the Census Bureau, addressed the finding in a recent blog post. For instance, Heggeness writes, in households where wives are the top earners, husbands report earnings that are 2.9 percentage points higher when they respond to surveys compared to what’s in their tax filings. Of course, not every husband and wife is fudging the numbers on census surveys, but enough are doing it to affect the averages in the data being collected by the Census Bureau. She explained the effects of the the exaggerations like so:
“Take a husband in Fargo, North Dakota, who lives in a household where the wife earns more. If he reported annual earnings of $30,000, he would tell the Census Bureau he earned more — an average $30,870 during that same year. That’s $870 more than his earnings as reported by his employer(s).
The gap is 1.5 percentage points lower for wives who make more than their husbands.
Let us say, for example, that the same man’s wife earns $40,000. On average, her reported earnings would be equivalent to $39,400, around $600 less than she actually earned. The overall impact on family earnings for this household is about $300 more than their employer-reported earnings.”
And, the researchers found, the phenomenon was more likely to occur when men filled out the census surveys than when women did. Heggeness points out that about one in four U.S. households are now considered “non-traditional” — meaning wives out-earn their husbands. All of the fudging of salary numbers, she writes, could actually have a negative effect on how the Census Bureau is able to understand the American population.
There are other negative effects as well, as Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization of Women, explained to ABC News. She said the findings of the report didn’t surprise her, but did leave her saddened.
“Women have been taught all of their life that they have to take a step back when it comes to men, that men have fragile egos and to keep peace in their families they have to make themselves appear lesser than they really are,” she said. Van Pelt said women need to start “putting themselves first” because they “have to be healthy, physically and mentally, so that they can advance and take care of their families, and this is one way that they can do that, by being able to tell the truth about who they really are and what they earn.”
And men may want to get over any feelings of inadequacy they may be experiencing about earning less than their spouse. A 2016 study found that when women take on more of the financial responsibility in a marriage, both wives and husbands are happier. And guess what — some of the biggest pop culture icons in America, like Jay Z and Beyonce, are out-earned by their wives — so they’re in good company.