Woman as Primary Bread Winner?

Discussion in 'Family Forum' started by Simply_Nikki, Dec 10, 2007.

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  1. Simply_Nikki

    Simply_Nikki Puritan Board Junior

    I've been wondering, is it okay for a woman to be the primary income earner of a marriage? I know the ideal situation is that wives be homemakers, but women are also to be helpers. I think the idea of helper can extend to income earning, especially if the husband's income earning power is not enough to support the family. However, at what point is a wife's duty as helper turn into dominating her husband? Or is it even a matter of domination in this realm?
  2. Bygracealone

    Bygracealone Puritan Board Sophomore

    Nikki, good question.

    The Scriptural ideal is just as brother Josh has said so well. That said, there are times when the ideal isn't possible. We have two families in our congregation in which the wife is the bread winner.

    In the first family, the husband is unable to do much because of a nearly fatal motorcycle accident three or four years ago. He broke a number of bones in his body including his hips. He continues to be on meds that prevent him from getting work... He's blessed to be alive. He hopes the situation will one day change, but for now, it is what it is; his wife works as a teacher.

    In the second family, the husband has terrible eye problems (due to a genetic disease) and has been unable to get work, though he has tried and is willing to work. To top it off, they have three children, two of which are severely handicapped (also due to family genetics). Thanfully, he is well enough to be a homemaker while his wife also works as a teacher.

    Now, in the example you've provided, I would suggest that the family first figure out what their true cost of living really is. Perhaps they need to consider lowering their standard of living... Otherwise, it may simply be another situation, like the ones I've mentioned, that's less than ideal. Perhaps they should consider having the wife work for a time while the husband works on sharpening a skillset to get a job that can provide for the family. We ought always to be working toward the ideal insofar as it's in our power to do so...

    Just my opinion.

    In His bountiful grace,
  3. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    This is good advice for all. The modern idea of "living the good life" has effectively produced a class of people who work like slaves so they can appear to live like kings.
  4. Simply_Nikki

    Simply_Nikki Puritan Board Junior

    Oh its quite all right my example was under normal circumstances. I know sometimes men lose their jobs or suffer from an accident or disease which would require that the wife work to help support the family. I was simply stating under normal circumstance where lets say.. a man whose job and earning power would be much less than the woman's earning power if she were to help with providing financially. Let me give a more contextual example. Husband and Wife have three children, Husband works a 9 to 5, but only makes maybe.. 25K a year. Now 25k a year for a family of 5, is well almost impossible, not that it can't be done. But we're talking about at or under the poverty at this point, where basic needs become a struggle. If the husband asks the wife to help, and her earning power is let's say 50k a year, would this be a problem is this distorting the her role under normal circumstances, since she ends up the primary provider?
  5. dfranks

    dfranks Puritan Board Freshman

    What if ....

    My situation is that I am about to marry and my future wife is older than I and is finished with her schooling and already have a full-time teaching job. I work full time as well but since Im still in school and I do not have a degree I cannot make a much money as her. Is she the primary-bread winner just because she makes more? What if we are both working and Im still taking care of the bills and how money should be handled?

    Our long term goal is for me to get to seminary and for her to stay at home whenever we have children.

    Last edited: Dec 13, 2007
  6. Jerusalem Blade

    Jerusalem Blade Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Hello Nikki,

    I would say no, it is not a problem. The crux is in the attitude of the wife; does she assume a dominant/domineering role because of her earnings? Then there is sin; but if she works with humility and respect for her husband, there is not.

    When a man works under a man -- or a woman -- as his supervisor, he is not under their headship in a Biblical sense -- a spiritual sense -- but under earthly authority. Police and magistrates are not heads over men because they wield earthly authority over them. Neither is a woman under the headship of an earthly supervisor in any Biblical and spiritual sense.

    Given the unusual economic situation modern man is in -- quite unlike earlier ages -- we need wisdom to function in it. I would say it is a gift from God that wives are enabled to help to a great extent providing finances for their families. If we are in Christ, and walk according to the Spirit of Christ there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1, 4).

    Both men and women need be very careful working in the secular workplaces, as sin abounds, and snares there are aplenty. But in Christ we have the victory.
  7. ReformationArt

    ReformationArt Puritan Board Freshman

    Some of the most envied men in seminary are those that have wives who can fully support them during those 3-4 years. Of course this raises a number of other issues, regarding the church's responsibility to a man in seminary, but that's for another thread ;-).

    It is rare these days to find a home where both parents are not working full time. Families are busier than ever, and have less time for fellowship because of it. Normally you work more to buy more stuff to make you happy (supposedly). However, it doesn't make you happier. What me need more of us godliness with contentment.
  8. ~~Susita~~

    ~~Susita~~ Puritan Board Junior

    I've thought about that a lot too, and I have to say that if my husband was going through seminary (pickin's is still slim, folks. No man in sight yet. ;)), I would be done with my nursing degree and would have absolutely no problem supporting us so he could concentrate on his studies. After that, I'd cut my hours down so I could stay at home more, but I'll still be working in a hospital, even if it's only once a week. Thoughts on the latter?
  9. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritanboard Commissioner

    Sue, I think that your post should catapult your chances into the stratosphere. The only problem is that I never thought of Bakersfield as the "Grand Rapids of Calvinism" West of the Mississippi (that would be Escondido). :lol:
  10. calgal

    calgal Puritan Board Graduate

    How is headship correlated to who is working? How about this situation: the wife works full time and the husband stays home and homeschools the kids? Husband IS head of the household but his role is slightly different. The benefit is that there is one parent home with the kids. A question to tack on to the OP: is it sin for the dad to be working 2=3 jobs and/or 80-90 hours a week on a regular basis? Does that father have the ability to have headship? :think:
  11. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior

    Assuming the husband is working this much out of necessity and not covetousness, I am very sure that a wife’s role as a helper definitely involves helping her husband, financially, to avoid this situation.

    The wife’s primary role is as a helper to her husband (Gen 2:18), and I do believe her roles as both mother and homemaker are extensions of that role, and should not supercede it. So in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3, we see that it is primarily fathers who have the responsibility from God to raise up the children. The mother plays a very, very important role as well, and one that should not belittled in any way, shape or form, but at least within the context of a marriage, she is primarily involved in helping the husband fulfill his duty to raise up the children.

    For example, and going to Gail’s question, I have heard some Christians claim that in his role as a provider, the husband should be willing to take multiple jobs etc so that the wife can stay home. I would disagree that his is always the case. Certainly sometimes the specific situation of a couple may require it, but it is not a requirement for godliness. A husband needs time, and energy to spend with his wife and children to nurture and grow them. He needs time and energy to be involved in the church and with the other members. This is not facilitated if he is spending most of his waking hours at work. I believe in such a situation it is perfectly noble of his wife to help him by taking up income producing activities, whether from the home or outside it, so as to contribute to the family and her husband’s success. Proverbs 31, particularly verses 16 and 24, show us that part of a wife’s role does involve participation in income producing activities, be they in or out of the home.

    Likewise, if her husband is hindered from working because he is studying to change his profession, or preparing to enter the ministry of the gospel, it is perfectly right and noble for a wife to help him financially for the time being. Alternatively, a newly married man might want his wife to work to build up savings or eliminate debts to prepare themselves for when the Lord grants them children. Again, this is, I believe, an entirely reasonable aspect of her role as his helper.

    I am aware of the fact that I need to tread carefully here, but I would go a little further and say that even when her contribution is not needed for the family to survive, there is still room and virtue for a wife to contribute financially to her household. Do not get me wrong, her emphasis in life is her husband, children and house in that order, and many women will simply have no time and energy after fulfilling those duties for income making. However, that is not always the case (I am thinking primarily of childless couples and couples where the children are older) and I believe a woman is welcome to work if she can do so without compromising her other duties.

    The career-mindedness of worldly women is wrong, but as I have said before on this forum, I believe the bible’s position is not as conservative as some well meaning Christians make it out to be. Again, as I have said before, when God designed a society and gave it his laws and statues, that society (OT Israel) had many women who were the maidservants of men other than their husbands or fathers.

    Going back to Proverbs 31 verses 16 and 24, I think it is important to note that these are not concessions to the imperfections of the family situation, but rather praiseworthy attributes of a virtuous wife. This is not a family in dire financial straits, but one that can afford servants and whose husband is an elder of the city. It is, according to the bible, a praiseworthy characteristic of a noble wife to be able to contribute financially to her household. The fact that she is contributing financially to the family is part of what makes her husband great (v23) and moves him to praise her (v28). It is not a shame or reproach against his ability as a provider.

    Again, some women will not be able to do this due to their other commitments. Some husbands may simply prefer if their wives stay home. The husband certainly is the one who is primarily entrusted by God to provide for the family. A family should always, I think, attempt if possible to be able to survive on the husband’s earnings alone. However, as I have said, this does not exclude the wife helping either if needed, or voluntarily if she can.
  12. BertMulder

    BertMulder Puritan Board Junior

    One aspect here that does not seem to be covered, is that the Lord has also provided diaconate care to aid those who, especially through no fault of their own, have trouble making ends meet.

    So the role of the wife is still in the first place the home and the children. And the deacons should be more than happy to assist.

    Also, and this is often forgotten, Scripture does not say 'Keeper at home if you have children, but until such a point be in the (paying) work force'

    And why would the wife want to take on the curse on the man, through Adam, as well as her own curse through Eve?
  13. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    I'm not sure the question is one of headship but rather a question of whether men and women have different responsibilities in the family. It seems clear to me from Genesis that God cursed the man and the woman differently because they have different responsibilities. The man is primarily responsible to provide for his family, and the woman is primarily responsible to raise children. With the situation of a man who voluntarily stays at home while his wife works the roles have been reversed, and God's design has been ignored.
  14. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    I want to clarify my earlier post and address yours by saying that I don't think earning potential is the issue at all. By "primarily responsible" I simply mean where the person spends their time and energy. I don't think there is any problem with a woman working part-time or from home and still making more than her husband.
  15. ~~Susita~~

    ~~Susita~~ Puritan Board Junior


    Unfortunately there aren't many Calvinists in this town. I'm starting to lean towards Covenant theology (still a credo, though), so now there really are no like-minded options out there. Oh well, who knows what God has in store, right?
  16. etexas

    etexas Puritan Board Doctor

    I am gonna make my Old Lady win some bread! Then I am going to lie on the sofa and let her feed me grapes one at a time, peeled.;););)
  17. calgal

    calgal Puritan Board Graduate

    Lydia had a nice career as a seller of purple cloth and then there was Deborah the Judge in Israel..... God clearly did not have a problem with women working. I am not talking about the career obsessed mommy or the working for the BMW and summer house folks (they are in sin in my opinion). The mom who works to put the kids in Christian schools (they are horribly expensive) or to save for college or when dad is unemployed or underemployed (can you tell we live in the Rust Belt) is not in sin. The mom who is able to be breadwinner while dad raises the kids does not "ruin God's design" is it not possible that this scenario is pleasing to the Lord?

    And the question remains unanswered: is it better for both parents to work (and make sure they are home with school aged kiddies) or for dad to work 2 or 3 jobs? I have friends who have chosen the latter course and never saw their wives or kids. How is that dad head of a household he rarely sees? By default, mom becomes head of the household while dad has the title. That IMNSHO is a greater sin. :2cents:
  18. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior

    To help clarify my own thinking, and to see if there is anywhere it is scripturally unsound, I would like to address some of these arguments, as they are ones I have seen fairly frequently. However, I must humbly submit that I do not find them convincing.

    I would repeat again that I am not denying at all that a wife is to prioritize her husband, children and home over any work she does. However, I disagree with the premise that in an ideal biblical situation, a wife would never work outside of the home.

    I agree that the church has a duty to support and help those who are having trouble. However, it is, I believe, a biblical principle that those who receive charity should be doing all they can for themselves. In the Law of Moses much provision was made for the poor, but it normally did not involve simply giving money outright to the poor, but rather in allowing the poor opportunity to work for a living.

    Leviticus 23:22 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God.

    Hence we see here the poor were actually required to do something, to come and pick up what had been left for them.

    Following from this principle, while a family in financial straits should receive help from the church, especially if it is through no fault of their own, they should be doing all they can for themselves. As I tried to show in my previous post, financial contribution is a part of the way a wife is a helper to her husband, so if the family truly is in dire straits she should help out financially, if she is able.

    Regarding 1 Timothy 5, I would note that the simple fact that a woman is a widow does not automatically qualify her for the help that is under consideration. First, she must be sixty or older (v9). Next, she must have lived a fruitful Christian life – “1 Timothy 5:10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.” IT is only certain widows that qualify for the complete care of the church.

    Going back to what I said about the Law of Moses, God includes widows in the category of those who should be allowed to glean the fields as an act of charity.

    Deuteronomy 24:19-21 When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

    However, they still have to go out and glean – they do not remain at home while the church cares for them, unless they fulfill the requirements of 1 Timothy 5.

    If we look at the story of Ruth, when she and her mother in law were in a needy situation, she went out to glean in the fields (2:2). When Boaz saw her, and heard of her good reputation (2:11-12), his reaction was not that it was wrong that she was out gleaning, rather he made arrangements to make it easier for her to glean.

    I agree that women should be keepers at home regardless of if they have children or not. I would (as you probably guessed) disagree with the definition of keepers at home that is often used in conservative christian circles. There is nothing in the context of Titus to indicate that Paul had the ‘career woman/homemaker’ distinction in mind when he penned those words. Thus if we reason in this manner: ‘a woman should not work outside the home because she is to be a keeper at home’, than a woman cannot go on holiday, go on her honeymoon, go to visit relatives, or do basically any activity because she would not be at home.

    If we look to the bible to define what a keeper at home is, and try to interpret spiritual things with spiritual, we find this:

    1 Timothy 5:13-14 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

    Paul says ‘I will therefore’ that younger women marry, bear children, guide the house. ‘Therefore’, or because of something, I want younger women to marry, etc etc. Because of what? Verse 13, because they tend to be idle… etc etc. In the biblical definition, the opposite of being a good homemaker is to be an idle woman and a busybody, not necessarily a ‘working woman’ per se.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, in OT Israel, many women would not have satisfied the conservative definition of ‘keepers at home’ because they were working in other men’s homes or fields as maidservants. God not only did not rebuke this state of affairs, but his Fourth and Tenth Commandments assume it. Exodus 20:10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

    Again, I agree that it is primarily the man who has the responsibility to provide for the family. That, however, does not mean it is wrong for the woman to work, any more than it means it is wrong for the man to help in the raising of the children simply because childbearing was the curse given to Eve. If we are going to divide things so strictly, than I would note that returning to the ground as dust is spoken to Adam as part of his curse (Gen 3:19). Does that mean women are exempt?

    If we look further into the bible we see that further explanation of how this curse plays out. The man is the primary provider and the one who carries the responsibility for it. But over and over in the bible we see women can and do work, if able or needed.
  19. Gloria

    Gloria Puritan Board Sophomore

    Good question. My situation is the same in that I'll probably make more than my FH after we're married. We currently make the same salary give or take a few hundred dollars. Thing is there is a SLIGHT possibility that he'll teach at a Christian school next fall. We already know his pay will decrease tremendously. In a about two years, Lord willing, he'll go to seminary. If we have children by then, I'll of course, want to stay at home...
  20. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    You quoted my post but didn't address my argument that men and women have different duties. Instead you point to the narratives of Lydia and Ruth for support of the position that it is OK for a woman to work outside of the home while her husband stays home with the kids. This is inadequate for several reasons.

    1. These are narratives, not didactic passages. The Bible is filled with narratives of sinful people like you and me. It is quite difficult for us to figure out what our duties are from such passages.

    1a. The narrative of Lydia tells us that Lydia was a seller of purple when she came to Christ. The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. Christ saves people while they are walking in darkness. This passage fails to prove your argument.

    1b. Deborah was a judge. It is clear from Isaiah 3:12 that her leadership is a sign of God's judgment on Israel. I agree with the commentators who write that Deborah was a judge because the men at that time were too weak and cowardly. No one is arguing that women shouldn't do what is necessary when men refuse to exercise their roles of leadership. Furthermore, we are not really told if it was right for Deborah to judge; we are just told that she is judging, not that the Lord raised her up.

    2. I don't believe we are ever told the marital status of Lydia or Deborah. They would have to be married for your argument to make any sense at all.

    3. Assuming they are married, we are not told what their husbands are doing. We certainly aren't told that they are at home with the kids. I imagine it would have been quite shameful for an able-bodied man to not be providing for his family at that time (as it should be).

    I'm not sure there is a distinction between the summer home and BMW on one hand and private school and college on the other. They all seem like luxuries to me.

    I already answered your first question in my first post. In the situation where an able-bodied man is at home while his wife is providing for his family both the man and the women have abandoned their God-given callings. I cannot see how this could please God, no matter how pragmatic it may be.

    I thought that I answered your second question implicitly. I'm not one who thinks it immoral for a woman to work outside the home, however her primary responsibility is to the home. It is interesting that you say that a woman who is home while the husband is not becomes the head of household by default. In 1 Tim. 5:14. we are told that women should "guide the house." I understand that perhaps a better translation is "rule the house" or "be despot of the house." So I'll turn the question around. How can a woman be despot of the house if that's not where she's spending her time and energy?

    A question for those learned in Greek: how is the word translated as "keepers at home" in Titus 2 used in Greek outside of the NT? I believe that is the only occurrence of the word in Scripture. I had heard that it is always used positively when speaking of women and negatively when speaking of men. Supposedly with women it is used to describe their domestic skills, and with men it is used to describe a coward who refuses to go to war. Just wondered if that was accurate.
  21. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Don't know about this at all. Should a married woman even be working, in paid employment, for men other than her husband (I'm not saying she should not, just asking)? :think:
  22. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior

    Obviously a married woman must put her husband above any employer, but I know of no bible reason why she cannot work under another man in the realm of employment. She is under her husband's headship, true, but the bible never forbids her from being under other authorities. Even if she is not working, she is still under the authority of her pastor, and the government at the same time as she is under her husband.

    In Exodus 21:2-11, we see that God set up the OT law so that a woman could end up with both a husband and a master at the same time. And he did not have any problems with such a state of affairs.

    Again, the wife must submit to her husband in whether he allows her to work, and a husband ought to wisely consider the sort of influences his wife will be exposed to, but there is no biblical basis for saying women can never work under a man other than their husband.
  23. ~~Susita~~

    ~~Susita~~ Puritan Board Junior

    It's not a matter of money. I chose to go into nursing as a ministry opportunity, therefore there is absolutely nothing wrong with this choice. If I find that it interferes with my duties as a godly wife, then I'll stop. The goal is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Especially in times of need. Since I am ministry minded, I'm looking for a man who wouldn't mind possibly living in a place like Kenya. Who knows what God has in store?
  24. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    As might be clear from my various thanks so far in this thread, I certainly agree with you on this issue in particular, namely the lawfulness of women in the workforce (granting of course that it can be unbiblically abused as can all lawful things).

    But one initial thing I noticed in your post here, and which I would caution against in general, is the "therefore" in your second sentence, in light of your emphasis on the goal. Of course the goal and attitude in taking up any endeavor certainly matters a great deal (e.g., look at the Pharisees and the goals of, say, their public prayers). But at the same time, the goal and attitude as such should never be thought to be in itself fully sufficient to automatically justify an endeavor as noble and good - indeed, many Christians had good, seemingly "Godly" motives in supporting "The Passion," or in currently giving money to TBN, or a young woman seeking pastoral ordination, or someone gifted in drama directing a play in the middle of a worship service, or you name it.

    You probably already agree with this, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to clarify that principle because of how you initially worded the reasoning that (paraphrased) "it's for ministry-minded reasons, therefore that definitely means there's absolutely nothing wrong with it."
  25. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    The Proverbs 31 woman could work both in and outside the home. The issue is not one of working but of submission and accomplishing her obligations. Some women may be able to manage their house and have a job too. Some fathers may be better at homeschooling than the mother. The Bible gives us principles to live by. But there is much versatility in them, especially in applying them to our modern urbanized situation. I would be highly cautious of condemning any working wife or stay-at-home dad before knowing all the circumstances, simply because the practice in and of itself is not sin. Are they fulfilling their biblical duties? If so, then let them remain as they are. :2cents:
  26. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I would also add, as a side note, that in the Bible days, women had more help in the home. They did not live in nuclear families as much as we do today. Extended family often lived with you, or at least in very close proximity. It was very common back then, especially for poor folks, for the grandparents to raise the children while both parents went out to work. Plus, kids went to work at a much younger age than today. Try to remember what biblical families actually looked like before we start extrapolating principles for our situation today. :2cents:
  27. SouthernHero

    SouthernHero Puritan Board Freshman


    There are FEW exceptions to this (disability is one, no children and the Husband in school full-time is another).
  28. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    My wife is a nurse and she has always worked very really hard at this. Before we had kids, she worked outside the home - an opportunitiy to learn more.

    Now that we are not in the States, her "profession" (I prefer to call it a "calling") really is an asset wherever she goes. It is a "ministry" if you are comfortable in calling it that.

    It is the perfect home-based ministry, especially if you live overseas. It is also quite an asset raising kids out of the US and your husband will be thankful for your skills. My wife gives all the immunizations and I can go hiking and travel far knowing that I leave my children in very able hands.

    Inside the USA, however, your job as a nurse will try to work you to death and will interfere with your personal life.....

    .... you should make plans on using your skill overseas somewhere.....oh wait, I see that you already are......
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2007
  29. Davidius

    Davidius Puritan Board Post-Graduate

  30. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    My contetion is that the stay-at-home dad is not fulfilling his duty to provide for his household, and I have not seen an adequate response to this.
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