Men report strain on their wellbeing, but women say they experience positive health benefits when they take on more financial responsibility in a marriage
Men who act as the primary breadwinners in their marriages are more likely to face psychological and health hurdles, according to a new study that looks at a potential adverse impact of traditional gender roles.
The study, released on Friday by University of Connecticut sociologists, found that as men take on a greater share of economic responsibility in their marriage, they reported greater strains on their wellbeing and health. In years where men in question were their familys sole breadwinner, their psychological and health outcomes were at their worst.
Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for ones family with little or no help has negative repercussions, said lead author Christin Munsch, professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut.
A lot of what we know about how gender plays out in marriage focuses on the ways in which women are disadvantaged, she said. Our study contributes to a growing body of research that demonstrates the ways in which gendered expectations are harmful for men too.
But the study also looked at women and found a contrasting psychological outcome. For women, taking on a greater financial responsibility in their marriages had positive effects on happiness and wellbeing.
Women … may approach breadwinning as an opportunity or choice, said Munsch, who co-authored the paper with Matthew Rogers and Jessica Yorks, graduate students at the university. Breadwinning women may feel a sense of pride, without worrying what others will say if they cant or dont maintain it.
After all, they have accomplished something rare for their gender, the study says, about women who are their familys primary breadwinner. Should they fail to maintain this status, however, they have less to lose than men in the same position, based on social expectations.
For decades, the number of US households with men as the primary breadwinner has steadily decreased. Experts attribute this to a number of factors, including changing gender roles in heterosexual marriages, as well as increasing numbers of women in the workforce.
The decrease of male breadwinners overall is also related to a greater number of single mother households, which according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study accounts for some two-thirds of the 40% of US households with children where the primary breadwinner was a woman.
According to Pew figures, 46% of two-parent households both work full-time, up from 31% in 1970.
Figures from the US Census Bureau show that in just over 50% of all married couples, both the man and woman are in the labor force; in just over 20% of couples, the man alone is in the labor force; and in just under 10% only the woman is in the labor force.
The new findings are based on data contained in the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), a study conducted over time by the Bureau of Labor Statistics which provides data from a nationally representative group about various measures of their life, job history and general wellbeing.
Survey respondents were asked how much time they spent during the last month being nervous, calm and peaceful, downhearted and blue, happy, and so down in the dumps that nothing can cheer you up. Their happiness level was ranked from one to five based on their response.
Philip Victor, a 29-year-old journalist living in Atlanta, said he does feel pressure as the sole breadwinner in his family. He has a young child and stay-at-home wife of four years who is currently studying for her nursing exam, and said both he and his wife look forward to a time when economic responsibility is shared.
But I would say that sense of pressure comes from being the primary income earner and not simply because Im a man.
I cant wait for the day when my wife passes her exam and starts working because we will be financially better off as a family and my wife will be thrilled about actualizing her dream of working as a nurse that alone will a tremendous psychological boost to both of us.
Matt Mehrhoff, 31, a school teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska, described experience on both sides of the breadwinning equation in his marriage of four years.
He said that he and his wife have at various points taken on more or less economic burden, including when he was in graduate school, or after the recent birth of their son.
Im not sure if it has to do with my gender, but after getting a better paying job and having a newborn, I definitely feel more pressure, he said. As I have been able to pay a larger share of family bills, I feel a stronger need to continue to do so or pay an even bigger share to be able to take some of the pressure off of my spouse.
The researchers acknowledged the significant limitations of its findings, particularly as they apply to same-sex couples. The NLSY covers people between the ages of 18 and 32 who are in heterosexual marriages. Consequently, we cannot presume that the reported relationships will hold in older populations, gay and lesbian populations, or cohabiting populations, the study said.
The findings run counter to some previous studies about men and women in heterosexual marriages. One study by Olin Business School at Washington University in 2013 found that in relationships where women earned more than men, the latter experienced higher rates of sexual and psychological problems.
The study acknowledges that the anxiety that individuals have in marriages based on their economic dependence or independence might be affected by their prior views about traditional gender roles.
It may be the case that breadwinning provokes anxiety among men who desire more equitable arrangements, but has little effect among men who desire more traditional arrangements, the study said. Similarly, economic dependency may elicit anxiety among women who prefer egalitarian marriages, but not among women who prefer more traditional arrangements.