Men Who Act As Family's Sole Breadwinner Experience Negative Health Repercussions

But being the breadwinner has the opposite effect on women.

19/08/2016 11:11

Men who provide the main source of income in their household could be seriously harming their health

A study has found that the more men took on financial responsibility in their marriages, the more their psychological wellbeing and health declined. 

Health levels appeared to be at their worst during years when men were their families’ sole breadwinner.

Conversely, the study found that women who brought home more money in comparison to their partners experienced increased psychological wellbeing. 

Lead researcher Christin Munsch said the findings are good news given that in most relationships nowadays, both sexes work.

“Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women,” she added.

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The study found that gendered expectations in marriage are not just bad for women, they are also bad for men.

“A lot of what we know about how gender plays out in marriage focuses on the ways in which women are disadvantaged,” explained Munsch, who is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut (UConn).

“For example, women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, and they still perform the lion’s share of housework.

“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.”

Researchers from UConn studied data on the same nationally representative group of married men and women (aged 18-32) over 15 years.

They examined the relationship between how much income men and women contributed to the family overall and found that, in general, as men took on more financial responsibility in their marriages, their mental wellbeing and health declined.

Health levels were at an all-time low during years when men were their families’ sole breadwinners. In these years, they had psychological wellbeing scores that were 5% lower and health scores that were 3.5% lower, on average, than in years when their partners contributed equally.


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Interestingly, the research, which was presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), found that breadwinning had the opposite effect for women.

Women’s psychological wellbeing improved as they made greater economic contributions and, as they contributed less in comparison to their spouses, their mental health declined. 

Munsch believes these differences in wellbeing are linked to cultural expectations for men and women.

“Men who make a lot more money than their partners may approach breadwinning with a sense of obligation and worry about maintaining breadwinner status,” said Munsch.

“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.”

She concluded: “Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women.”

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