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Too much pressure to be the breadwinner can worsen health

Posted September 8

Men who are the sole breadwinners of a family can have lower levels of health and happiness than in marriages where both spouses contribute, according to new research.

The University of Connecticut gathered 15 years of data from a pool of 9,000 married men and women, Live Science noted. Each participant’s response on income, health and psychological wellness was evaluated, and as a man’s economic responsibility increased, his health and mental wellness declined. Men suffered most when they were the family's sole breadwinner.

Women, meanwhile, had better mental health the more money they earned, with their physical health unrelated to relative income, Live Science noted.

Christin Munsch, the sociologist who led the study, attributed the different effect that breadwinning roles have on men and women on how each sex views that role, according to The Atlantic.

Men are conditioned to see it “as an obligation,” while women “see it more as an opportunity.” And women are less likely to care what others think if they aren’t the main income source in a household, while men feel they have to accept higher-paying positions, even when the jobs are stressful and taxing.

If men lose their breadwinning status, “it's seen as an emasculating, bad thing — you're more likely to get teased by your peers saying your wife wears the pants in the family," Munsch told the Independent.

Munsch doesn’t attribute the results solely to harmful gender-based expectations, though, telling The Atlantic that “there's something about our modern era of consumption that's driving this.”

“Our lifestyles expand to take up whatever we’re making,” Munsch noted, giving the example of a family that sought a $500,000 yearly income to pay for their vacation home and luxury cars.

These doesn't mean that those who want something traditional should feel ashamed of that, The Atlantic noted.

“There are women who want to stay home with kids, and there are men who want to be breadwinners,” Munsch told The Atlantic. “But if we can take the gender component out of this — and just ask our partners what everyone wants to bring to the table here versus what we're expected to bring to the table — I think everyone is going to be better off.”

A recent survey found that two-thirds of stay-at-home moms contribute to household income in some way, with 25 percent running a business from home. Most reported some degree of happiness, with only 2 percent stating they weren’t happy at all.

Munsch said the effects that are caused by gender stereotypes are recent and can be remedied by modeling past marital arrangements to make ends meet.

“For most of history men and women have worked together, and there hasn't been a homemaker and breadwinner model,” she said.

The young generations “report across the board that they want to be in egalitarian relationships, with both couples contributing equally,” Munsch said, according to the Independent.

Signs of an equal partnership, according to Women’s Health, include:

  • Back-and-forth conversations and not one party dominating the conversation.
  • Both spouses are satisfied with their sex life.
  • Mutual support and consideration of career goals.
  • Payment isn’t a power move. If both parties try to contribute as much as they can, it shows a lack of tension.
  • There may be set preferences for chores, but neither side should feel “unfairly overburdened.”
  • No one person makes the decisions. What both sides say counts in a healthy relationship.

Email: smanderson@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @Sarahsonofander.

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