Being sole breadwinner: Bad for men, good for women

When men were the sole breadwinner in their family, their psychological well-being scores were an average of 5 per cent lower than when their partners contributed equally. Photo / Getty
When men were the sole breadwinner in their family, their psychological well-being scores were an average of 5 per cent lower than when their partners contributed equally. Photo / Getty

Being the breadwinner can damage men's health - but it gives women a boost.
Researchers found men's well-being declines as they take on more financial responsibility in their marriage.

Their psychological and physical health tended to be at its worst during the years in which they became their family's sole breadwinner.

But taking on more financial responsibility had the opposite effect on women, who became happier the more they contributed, while they felt psychologically worse if their spouse was contributing more than they were.

The Connecticut University study followed more than 3,000 married people aged between 18 and 32 from 1997 to 2011. Over that period, participants regularly had to answer questions on their emotional well-being and health, as well as detailing what income they had.

The researchers found that during times when men were the sole breadwinner in their family, their psychological well-being scores were an average of 5 per cent lower than in the years when their partners contributed equally.

Men's health scores were also 3.5 per cent lower when they were the sole breadwinner.
Christin Munsch, an assistant professor in sociology at the university, said: "A lot of what we know about how gender plays out in marriage focuses on the ways in which women are disadvantaged.

"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."

She said results that showed being a breadwinner had the opposite effect on women could be explained by the cultural pressures on men.

"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 said. "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."

Although being a breadwinner improved women's emotional health, it had no impact on their physical health.

The researchers considered several alternative explanations, including age, education, income, number of hours worked and whether or not the couple had children - but none of these could explain their findings.

Professor Munsch said the results were good news as modern couples tended to share the burden of work and looking after the family. She added: "Whereas men's psychological well-being and health tend to increase as their wives take on more economic responsibility, women's psychological well-being also improves as they take on more economic responsibility."

- Daily Mail

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