Many men know they’re supposed to want a partner who is as brilliant and successful as they are. Few men actually do. This reminds me of Kathleen Gerson’s book The Unfinished Revolution, which I reviewed back in 2009. When she interviewed young men and women about how they hoped to construct their relationships in the future, both said they wanted equal partners who had their own fulfilling careers.
But young men and women have very different backup plans if (or, more likely, when) they are unable to achieve that egalitarian balance. “Reversing the argument that women are returning to tradition,” Gerson writes, “men are more likely to want to count on a partner at home.” […] Young men are not so naive as to think their partner will never hold a job, but when it comes to making the hard choices about balancing work and family, a majority tell Gerson that their wives will be the ones to “shift down” their careers, which the men see as “extra” or “non-essential.”
And so I’d add a fourth explanation: A woman who is more successful than her male partner also poses a direct threat to the often unspoken assumption that she will be the one to make professional sacrifices when there are tough decisions to be made.