Male Breadwinners Are Less Healthy, Study Shows, Because Rigid Gender Roles Hurt Everyone

Maybe Norman Rockwell's paintings should have featured fewer Boy Scouts and more trips to the therapist. According to a University of Connecticut study released on Aug. 19, male breadwinners are less healthy and face more psychological problems than the ever-growing number of women who bring home the bacon (and lots of it). It's almost like inflexible gender roles hurt everyone in the end — oh wait, that's exactly how it shakes out.

The study was presented at the 111th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association by sociologist Christin Munsch, who noted that this is one of few studies focusing on how traditional gender roles affect men as well as women. "Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for one’s family with little or no help has negative repercussions," Munsch said, according to UConn Today.

To arrive at this conclusion, researchers analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which tracked young people from 1997 to 2011. After narrowing their data down to married, straight participants, researchers compared different aspects of their lives — income, well-being, job history, and so on — and found that men and women had opposing reactions to bearing economic responsibility. When women earned more money than their spouses, their psychological well-being improved, but when men were the sole source of income, their physical and psychological health declined in comparison to the years when finances were distributed more equally.


Researchers attributed this difference to rigid cultural expectations. In the same way that men are praised for performing basic chores while women still take on the bulk of housework, women are applauded when they out-earn their spouses. Although women are the primary earners in a record 40 percent of households in the United States these days, it's still a big deal, especially in light of the persistent wage gap between men and women.

Men, on the other hand, are expected to bring in more money, and that pressure can take a toll on their mental health. According to researchers, men have more to lose in the eyes of society if they fail to bring home buckets of cash. "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 explained, according to Science Daily. In contrast, women who out-earn their partners may "feel a sense of pride, without worrying what others will say if they can't or don't maintain it," which could be why they experience an uptick in their well-being.

Fortunately for men, the number of families that depend on a husband's income has been steadily declining since the '70s. In fact, the Andy Griffith ideal appears to be on its way out — if it was ever "in" in the first place.


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