Being sole breadwinner is bad for men’s health but good for women
The rise of women in the workplace has often been blamed for making men feel side-lined, emasculated and unsure of their role in the family.
But a new study suggests that being the sole breadwinner is bad for a man’s mental and physical health and sharing the financial burden brings long-term benefits to well-being.
In contrast, women’s mental health benefits from being the only provider with their overall emotional health and happiness declining as they contributed less to the household.
The US researchers conclude that cultural expectations have left men viewing ‘breadwinning’ as an obligation they must fulfil, while women see it as an achievement.
"Men who make a lot more money than their partners may approach breadwinning with a sense of obligation and worry about maintaining breadwinner status," said Dr Christin Munsch, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Conneticut.
"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 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."
To find out the link between financial dependency and overall health, researchers looked at the answers of nearly 9,000 people who took part in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth between 2007 and 2011.
They found that men's psychological well-being and health were at their worst during years when they were their families' sole breadwinner.
In these years, they had psychological well-being scores that were 5 per cent lower and health scores that were 3.5 per cent lower, on average, than in years when their partners contributed equally.
However breadwinning has the opposite effect for women when it comes to psychological well-being. Women's psychological well-being improved as they made greater economic contributions.
Conversely, as they contributed less relative to their spouses, their psychological well-being declined. Relative income was unrelated to women's health.
"Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women," added Dr Munsch.
"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."
The study was presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual conference.