One of the toughest decisions that many couples have to face is which spouse should stay home. In the past, the answer to this question was fairly cut and dry: The husband works while the wife takes care of children and home. However, as women have seen an increase in earning power and career opportunities, the dynamic is changing. If you want to be a single-income household so one of you stays home with the kids, you might have to look beyond tradition and figure out what’s best for you and your family. Make sure you discuss these matters as a couple before making a decision. Here are some things to consider as you decide which spouse should stay home:

Earning Power

Take a look at earning power. Which spouse has a higher income? You should also look at potential earning power. Be honest. Has one of you progressed pretty much as far as he or she can go in a company or career? Does your spouse have better promotion and pay raise prospects. Even if there is only a slight difference in income now, you should also consider the future. If your spouse is career-driven and likely to climb higher, it makes sense to send him or her to work and make more money while you take care of things at home.

Emotional Abilities

Sometimes, though, you also have to look at emotional abilities. Can one spouse handle staying home better than the other? To a certain extent, nearly everyone has to adjust to the special challenges that come with staying at home. Some people, though, cope better than others. If the arrangement isn’t working after a few months, then it might be time to consider switching things — assuming that you can afford to. In some cases, it can help if the stay at home spouse can find a hobby, start an online business from home, or even work part-time to help ease the situation.


In a perfect world, the choices you make for the good of your family would not prompt comment from neighbors, fellow congregants, and relatives. However, in some situations the cultural pressures to conform can just be too great. For some, braving the ridicule associated with being a stay at home dad (“He’s a lazy bum,” “She’s such a control freak, keeping her man down”) can be too overwhelming — no matter what you feel is right for your family. Some people solve the problem by moving away, while others are fortunate enough to have open-minded associates who aren’t so shuttered by traditional roles.

Deciding What’s Best for You

Ultimately, the choice is yours to make. I’m in a rather fortunate position of being the primary bread winner and being able to work from home. My husband has started doing some of his work from home, but he’ll be gone more in the fall when he starts his new life as a college professor. However, for the first 18 months of my son’s life, my husband was the primary caregiver. I worked outside the home, since I had a degree, and my husband was still in school. For us, it made more sense for me to go to work, since I had better earning power. My husband stayed home, and endured the strange looks and sometimes mean-spirited comments. All that didn’t matter to us, though, because we knew that we were doing what was best for us.

How do you decide who should stay home, and who should work?



Miranda is freelance journalist. She specializes in topics related to money, especially personal finance, small business, and investing. You can read more of my writing at Planting Money Seeds.