The Bible Encourages Women Who Work Outside the Home

A recent report by Ashley C. Ford for Refinery21 notes that in a significant number of domestic relationships between women and men (married or unmarried) the woman earns more than the man. This is creating tension, according to an article from NBC News:

The feedback they receive from the culture is clear: Men should be earning more so that they can provide for their families, and if they don’t, it’s symptomatic of a problem. These messages produce an “almost unavoidable emotional and psychological consequence,” Ford writes. Women feel guilty. Men feel emasculated. (Millennial Women Are ‘Worried,’ ‘Ashamed’ for Out-Earning Boyfriends and Husbands.)

They shouldn’t, neither neither men nor women. Women being breadwinners is honored in the Bible.

Wisdom and Women in the Workplace

Proverbs 31 personifies Wisdom as a woman. (Exposing the Myth of the Proverbs 31 Woman.) She’s a powerful woman too, and is so successful in all she does that her husband, children and community praise her. As verse 11 says: “Her husband has full confidence in her … .” Why is he so confident? Among other reasons, because she works day and night to bring in money for the family:

She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
(Proverbs 31:16-18.)

Real estate magnate, winemaker, trader – she knows business and continues to earn profits from her work. How does her husband spend his days according to Proverbs 31? He is freed up to take part as a civic leader:

Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
(Proverbs 31:23.)

Of course, just because the passage doesn’t show him holding down a job doesn’t mean he was idle. He likely worked as hard as she did. Yet she is the one whose wisdom and skill is praised in this passage, with no hint of criticism for engaging in business that made her family wealthy and certainly no suggestion that her husband should have felt emasculated.

The Old Way Is the Wise Way

Ford’s report on women earning more than men suggests that the problem is societal:

Ford writes that “the overwhelming majority of millennial women breadwinners don’t believe the men in their lives should feel emasculated by the gap in their income.” Now they’re waiting for the overwhelming majority of Americans in general to catch up. (Millennial Women, above.)

I’d suggest instead that the solution is not catching up to a new way of looking at women and work, but to return to the ancient way found in Proverbs 31. Families are meant to thrive – not cover themselves with unbiblical shame – when the wife earns a high wage. There is nothing shameful or emasculating about it.

And let’s not only praise women whose work allows their families to thrive, but even more let us praise the One whose blessings allow that thriving in the first place.


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16 Responses to The Bible Encourages Women Who Work Outside the Home

  1. deelmo says:

    Sounds to me like both millennial women and men have some ‘social adjusting’ to do. 🙂

  2. keriwyattkent says:

    This whole debate gets more interesting when you mix in the Christian subculture messages that, as you point out, misinterpret Scripture to assume that women should be homemakers. I wrote about this a while back, you can read it here:

    • Tim says:

      I love this quote you used in your article for CT, Keri: “… the more successful she is, the more successful we are.” The couples you interviewed have struggled under the expectations society puts on families to live according to worldly traditions but still found a way to thrive. Thanks for linking your article; it’s good journalism.

  3. Lynn Thaler says:

    I agree, God has blessed some woman with the ability to do well in the workforce. We should be thankful for their contributions and not complain. Also, the worth of a man as a part of the family unit is more than how much money he earns.

  4. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is refreshing, Tim: I like how you show that women earning a good wage can be a very strong and admirable part of a good marriage, and that the concept of husband as breadwinner and wife as housekeeper is not Biblical at all. It’s amazing the grip some of these traditions can have, down through many generations.

  5. Nancy2 says:

    It seems like the social constructs and traditions “become” Biblical(TM) when the pride of certain males is threatened.

  6. overseas worker says:

    Agree! Thanks for putting it so succinctly!

  7. E.L. Dalke says:

    I’ve always wonder why Lydia (Acts 16) doesn’t get more positive press. That woman was a powerhouse. And, just among you, me and the internet: I’ve always suspected that a certain female tentmaker named Priscilla wrote the letter to the Hebrews. Women have been working hard and earning our keep for a long time, whether or not society wants to celebrate our accomplishments.

  8. I am conflicted on this issue. Not the Biblical side as much as the practical, but I suppose they overlap. I think we would all agree that babies thrive best with their moms, whether through nutrition, attachment, nurturing, comfort. I’m afraid there are negative affects when we minimize that biological and emotional need for our children, and pretend that there are no consequences physically and emotionally when that early bond is broken through child care. I think there are negative effects on the moms as well that are stretched and pulled in so many ways. Not sure the Biblical times are comparable entirely. Babies and even children were alongside their moms, for the most part, whether working or not, and had that natural bonding that is needed. Would love to hear this explored more.

    • Tim says:

      You raise good points on what parents should consider. My post was in response to those who say the Bible mandates that women stay home always.

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