While gender stereotype holds that men should be the main breadwinner in a household, a new study suggests they would prefer women to take some of the financial burden; researchers find the responsibility of being chief earner is likely to take a toll on men’s mental well-being and physical health.
For women, however, the opposite is true; the study reveals that making greater financial contributions is likely to improve their psychological health.
Study co-author Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, and colleagues are due to present their results at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in Seattle, WA.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, around 37.7 percent of married women in the United States had higher incomes than their husbands, compared with 23.7 percent in 1987.
Despite the significant rise in the number of women taking the title of primary breadwinner, the gender stereotype remains that men should be the main earners in a household, and, as a result, many men feel they are expected to earn more than their partners.
But according to the new research, this expectation is bad news for men’s mental health.
The investigators reached their findings by analyzing the data of married couples aged 18-32 who were part of the 1997-2011 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.
The team looked at the income of partners in each couple over time, as well as information on the mental and physical health of each partner – as determined by scores on health questionnaires.
Overall, the researchers identified a reduction in psychological health and well-being among husbands who increasingly adopted more financial responsibility than their wives.
Men’s mental and physical health fared worst in the years they were the primary breadwinners of the household, the team found.
During this period, men’s psychological well-being and physical health scores were 5 percent and 3.5 percent lower, respectively, compared with those of men whose financial contributions were equal to their partner’s.
However, the team found that the psychological health of women improved as they made greater financial contributions to the household. No link was found between women’s income and their physical health.
“Our study contributes to a growing body of research that demonstrates the ways in which gendered expectations are harmful for men too. Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for one’s family with little or no help has negative repercussions.”
The study results remained after accounting for age, education, total income, and how many hours partners worked each week, the team reports.
According to Munsch, their findings are likely down to gender differences in cultural expectations.
“Men who make a lot more money than their partners may approach breadwinning with a sense of obligation and worry about maintaining breadwinner status,” she explains.
“Women, on the other hand, may approach breadwinning as an opportunity or choice. Breadwinning women may feel a sense of pride, without worrying what others will say if they can’t or don’t maintain it.”
Munsch adds that the results should not be viewed in a negative light; they show that equal financial contributions in a relationship may benefit the mental health of both partners.
“Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women.”