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Have Attitudes Changed about Being the Breadwinner?

By Kevin Hellyer
Published Jun 20, 2020
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A third of American women now earn at least as much as their husbands. Compare that to 1980, when only about 12% of women earned an equivalent salary. Even though a gender pay gap still exists, where women make, on average, 80 cents for every $1 earned by men, compensation rates are improving for women in the United States.

Within individual households, however, there's contention over who should be bringing home the bacon. According to a 2019 study, married men prefer their wives to contribute to the household income, but only up to a certain point.

The 15-year study of 6,000 heterosexual American couples, conducted by the University of Bath in the U.K., found that husbands are at their most anxious when they are the sole breadwinner, and thus financially responsible for the family's well-being.

By contrast, the study found that men are least stressed when their wives earn approximately 40 percent of the total household income. However, stress levels are also high among men whose wives earn more than 40% of the household income. These findings show how persistent -- and potentially harmful -- gender identity norms still are, the researchers said.

The stress of being (or not being) the breadwinner:

  • Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath's School of Management, said the study also showed that husbands don’t get stressed about who makes what, if their future wives out-earned them before marriage.

  • Survey participants were asked to measure distress in terms of feeling sad, nervous, restless, hopeless and worthless.

  • “Persistent distress can lead to many adverse health problems (in men),” Syrda explained, “including physical illness, and mental, emotional and social problems."
PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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