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Opposites Attract: Common challenges and solutions of spouses from cross class backgrounds

Updated: Jan 9

Cross class marriages are between individuals from different social classes; different economic, educational, and occupational statuses within a society. They are not uncommon; 32% of males with college degrees were married to females with similar qualifications in 2013.

Dr. Streib wrote The Power of the Past, which traces the lives of highly-educated adults who married a partner raised in a class different from their own, primarily between those from blue- and white-color backgrounds.

Crossing class lines takes work because our environment shapes the ideas of how to go about our daily lives, even in the most subtle ways.

Upwardly mobile spouses who grew up in lower-income environments experienced success by going with the flow, making the most of the moment, and avoiding self-imposed constraints. How they learned to cope and thrive shaped their approach to marriage now.

In contrast, their spouses, who grew up in upper-income families, organized, planned, monitored, and oversaw the world around them. Such traits carry into marriage.

Dr. Streib found that such differences surfaced in nearly every aspect of their lives, from how they manage their finances, to how they manage their time and how their children should be raised.

Couples in cross class marriages who seemed to get along well did not argue any less than couples who didn’t. The difference was how they argued, not what they argued about.

Dr. Streib shares more in the video below:

The more I learned about cross class marriages, the more fascinated I became. Cross classes better explained the strong opinions and inevitable disagreements in our marriage than perceived gender norms.

We also spent most of our marriage living out of perceived gender norms at home. I worked very long hours, so she managed most of the responsibilities at home.

Our roles changed just over a year ago. My wife and I went through the adjustment pains shared by Dr. Streib. Such pains were often playful annoyances; apparently, there is a wrong way to fold towels.

We also attribute the modest struggles of our transition as an expectation for anyone departing tasks they have owned for years.

If you’re a husband who wants to contribute equitably to managing the home and money but are frustrated because your wife won’t let go, you’re not alone. Dr. Streib explains why.

On the Modern Husbands podcast, we host national thought leaders, such as Dr. Streib, to discuss how spouses can partner to manage money and the home and live happier lives.

Modern Husbands Podcast Episode: Opposites Attract

Dr. Streib of Duke University explains the common challenges and solutions of spouses from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dr. Streib is an Associate Professor at Duke University and holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan. She is the author of three books. For today’s discussion we are focusing on The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages looks at how couples who grew up in different class backgrounds think about how to spend money, plan their careers, raise their children, and express their emotions.

Show Notes

  • Up to 1:03: Introduction

  • 1:04-1:54: What the book is about. How married couples who grew up in very different classes manage the home and money together.

  • 1:54-2:49: Dr. Streib’s passion behind understanding cross class marriages and the process she used to interview couples for her research and book.

  • 7:15-11:15: The specific challenges people face who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds

  • 11:16-15:00: A deeper dive into gender differences

  • 15:01-17:43: Why women feel like they must manage the home but they are working and how couples work through it.

  • 17:44-22:38: Examples of common conflicts in parenting and how to work through

  • 22:39-23:31: Is marriage easier for people from different income backgrounds?

  • 23:32-27:28: Was there resentment from women who took on more housework tasks and how did they work through it?

  • 27:29-29:13: How do you work through differences if you can’t hire a housekeeper?

  • 29:14-33:35: How couples from different backgrounds approach the house they wanted and how that impacts where you live and decorating your home (which isn’t the same as clean)

  • 33:36-35:15 How do couples work through the friction of two different visions of what a home should look like – and how to work through it.

  • 35:16-39:23: Parting and important advice.

  • 39:24-39:50: Conclusion

Related Resources and Articles


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