Husbands’ stress increases if wives earn more than 40 percent of household income

Stress levels decline as their wives' earnings approach 40% of household income.

A new study on over 6,000 American heterosexual couples over 15 years has shown that the husband tends to live more anxious if their wife earns up to 40% of household income.

This makes them uncomfortable as their spouse’s wages rise beyond that point. The anxiety increases even more when the husband’s e entirely economically dependent on their partner.

The research conducted by the scientists from the University of Bath has shown that the husband’s stress increases when they are the sole breadwinner, shouldering all the burden of responsibility for the household’s finances.

But if the wife’s earnings approach 40% of household income, the stress levels decline.

Dr. Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath’s School of Management, said, “These findings suggest that social norms about male breadwinning—and traditional conventions about men earning more than their wives—can be dangerous for men’s health. They also show how strong and persistent are gender identity norms.”

“This is a large study but of a specific group—other conventions apply in other groups and societies, and the results may change as times move on. However, the results are strong enough to point to the persistence of gender identity norms, and their part in male mental health issues. Persistent distress can lead to many adverse health problems, including physical illness, and mental, emotional, and social problems.”

“The study also showed that husbands did not suffer psychological distress about their wives’ income if their wife was the higher earner before marriage and the existing and potential income gap was clear to them.”

Scientists analyzed the data from the Pew Research Centre in the US. The figures show that only 13% of married women earned more than their husbands in 1980. But, later they found that this figure was close to one third by 2017 and the trend was likely to continue.

Dr. Syrda said, “Scientists were increasingly interested in how this would affect social norms, wellbeing, and our understanding of masculinity.”

“The consequences of traditional gender role reversals in marriages associated with wives’ higher earnings span multiple dimensions, including physical and mental health, life satisfaction, marital fidelity, divorce, and marital bargaining power.”

“With masculinity closely associated with the conventional view of the male breadwinner, traditional social gender norms mean men may be more likely to experience psychological distress if they become the secondary earner in the household or become financially dependent on their wives, a finding that has implications for managing male mental health and society’s understanding of masculinity itself.”

The study also sheds light on the Bargaining power between husband and wife.

Dr. Syrda noted, “The elevated psychological distress that comes with husbands’ economic dependence on their wives can also have practical underpinnings due to bargaining in the shadow of dissolution or the fear of reduced economic status in the event of an actual divorce. These effects are larger among cohabiting couples, possibly due to the higher probability of dissolution.”

The study also pins down the way husbands and wives assessed their anxiety and that of their partner. When participants were asked to report their stress in terms of feeling sad, nervous, restless, hopeless, worthless, or that everything was an effort. Men reported better mental health than their wives reported on their behalf.

Wives reported their husbands’ lowest distress level was when they were contributing 50% of the household income, while husbands said the lowest distress when their wives contributed 40%.

Dr. Syrda said, “The fact that a wife observes to a lesser degree her husband’s elevated psychological distress when he is financially dependent on her maybe simply because he does not communicate it—this may be yet another manifestation of gender norms.”

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