At 31, Julia Jamison* was the right age for marriage—old enough to know what she wanted, but young enough to wait a few years before having children. Ben, her fiancé, was a successful screenwriter; Jamison, a law school dropout who was currently unemployed, had sailed through a top Ivy League college and was contemplating her next career move.
Their wedding—an elaborate event studded with enough boldfaced names to fill a dozen gossip columns—seemed the perfect union of cultures as well as families. All reports indicated that the newlyweds were doing well—right up until a month before their first wedding anniversary.
That was when Ben announced that he wanted a divorce. “We both expected me to work, but he was very clear that I could do whatever I wanted as long as it made me happy,” says Jamison. “But in practice, that didn’t turn out to be true. He was so angry, so dismissive of me when I was not working.”
Financial reliance on her new husband, she continues, had turned her into someone else entirely: humiliated, demoralized, frustrated, and impotent. “I was incredibly naïve,” she admits. “I had not realized that money is power in a relationship. If I’d been economically independent, I wouldn’t have taken nearly as much shit from him. But I didn’t have any chips.”
According to experts, that toxic dynamic is all too common in relationships where the man is the sole breadwinner. “Women without their own income have less power in their marriages,” says sociologist Barbara Risman, former co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. “If your partner is also your paycheck, you’re in a different position to make demands. So if you earn no money, or less money, you’re going to be less likely to win when you have disagreements. And this decreases the quality of the marriage.”
But these days, young women seem increasingly inclined to ignore such considerations. Like Julia Jamison, many spend more time planning their weddings than figuring out how they’re going to support themselves for the rest of their lives.