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When Wives Earn More Than 40 Percent of the Household Income, Husband Gets Stressed Out

While women still fight for gender and income equality in the workplace, it seems they still have some fighting to do in the home as well. A new study shows that men are still impacted by traditional gender roles and tend to be more stressed out when their wives earn more than 40% of the household income.

Research conducted by the U.K.'s University of Bath of approximately 6,000 heterosexual American couples over a 15-year period, from 2001 to 2015 showed that men feel stressed when their wives earn more than 40% of the household income, but they also shoulder an enormous burden when they're responsible for 100% of the household earnings. It found that when wives earn close to 40% of the household income, the husband's stress decreases, meaning they're OK with their wife contributing to the household, just not too much.

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Dr. Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University’s School of Management commented on the results of the study and how they affect both men and women. “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," Dr. Syrda said. "They also show how strong and persistent are gender identity norms,” she added.

“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 to 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,” she said.

Syrda added that "There's a kind of a sweet spot when men are most comfortable when women make 40% of the total income. Once her income rises past that point, their distress rises."

Dr. Syrda also pointed out that these income disparities didn't adversely affect men who entered relationships knowing their female counterparts earned more. The study found that women's wages have risen since 1980 when Pew Research showed that just 13% of married women earned more than their husbands. As of 2017, that number had risen to one third, and the trend seems to be continuing to rise, which could be problematic if these antiquated gender norms that assume the man should be the breadwinner persist.

"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," Dr. Syrda noted. She said the results indicate that “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.”

Thanks to the fact that workplace pay equality is on the rise and women are traditionally earning more than ever before, Syrda commented that "it's interesting that the male breadwinner norm is so durable."

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