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Men who primarily provide for family show decline in health and happiness, study shows

Posted August 25
Updated August 26

A recent study indicates that men who are the primary breadwinner in their family are less happy and less healthy than those who are not. (Deseret Photo)

A recent study indicates that men who are the primary breadwinner in their family are less happy and less healthy than those who are not.

The authors of the study "Relative Income, Psychological Well-Being, and Health: Is Breadwinning Hazardous or Protective?" used data on the same nationally representative group of married men and women over the span of 15 years and found that, in general, men who shouldered more financial responsibility in their marriages experienced a decline in their health and psychological well-being, according to American Sociological Association.

“Men's psychological well-being and health were at their worst during years when they were their families' sole breadwinner,” American Sociological Association reported. “In these years, they had psychological well-being scores that were 5 percent lower and health scores that were 3.5 percent lower, on average, than in years when their partners contributed equally.”

A University of Connecticut assistant professor of sociology, Christin Munsch, and two graduate students, Matthew Rogers and Jessica Yorks, authored the study, which was presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"A lot of what we know about how gender plays out in marriage focuses on the ways in which women are disadvantaged," Munsch said in a statement. "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."

Contrary to men, women experienced an incline in their psychological well-being as they made more money and it declined as they made less compared to their spouse. Relative income did not affect their health either way, according to American Sociological Association.

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

"Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women," she said. "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."

W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, said on Twitter that Munsch did a study last year showing that not being the breadwinner is bad for men.

Wilcox referenced an article in the L.A. Times that reported the study showed men and women who were more financially dependent on their spouse were more likely to cheat on them.

“The study uses data from the 1997 through 2011 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to examine the effects of household income dynamics on psychological well-being and health in a nationally representative sample of married people between the ages of 18 and 32,” American Sociological Association reported of the more recent study. “The researchers considered a number of alternative explanations for their findings, including age, education, absolute income and number of hours worked per week; however, these variables did not account for their findings.”

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