A new study has shown that having the traditional male role of being the primary breadwinner has a negative effect on men’s health.
The University of Connecticut conducted research that revealed men who are required to provide the majority of their family’s income have negative side effects.
Over a 15-year period the researchers gathered data for a group of men and women in heterosexual marriages. The data showed that men’s health and happiness declined in direct relation to the level of financial responsibility for the household they undertook.
Christin Munsch, a sociologist at the University, and leader of the study believes this is down to the psychological impact of ingrained gender roles.
Looking at the findings of the study she said;
“The psychological experience of being a breadwinner for men and women is really different. Men don’t get any brownie points for being a breadwinner, it’s just the status quo,”
“If they lose that, 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, that sort of thing.”
But another interesting aspect of the study was the opposite effect that being the main breadwinner had on the woman in the relationship. It ensured that women’s psychological wellbeing improved Munsch observed;
“For women, being a breadwinner is not the expectation, so when you are a breadwinner, people look up to that. And if you lose that, you don’t become a loser, it’s just the status quo.”
The study was undertaken by a cross-section of American society. It looked at answers given by some 3,176 married people aged between 18-32 during the period 1997 to 2011.
They were asked questions relating to their happiness and levels of anxiety and or depression. The questions were like ‘how often do you feel so down that nothing could pick you up? Or ‘How often do you feel happy?’
Their responses to the questions as well as queries about the individual’s health were then studied in relation to which partner had the primary income level for the family.
There was a 5 per cent reduction in the well-being of men, and their health scores were also negatively affected by 3.5 per cent when the man took on the responsibility of being primary breadwinner as opposed to the partners taking an equal stake in their income.
The finding came as a shock to Mrs. Munsch;
“I was surprised, not to find that men have these dips in psychological well-being and health when they are the breadwinner, but that it was different for women,” she said.
In order to ensure the validity of their findings Munsch and her team had to take into consideration number of variables that could impact her study. One such variable was how much money the couple made in total, noting that low income families and particularly could be liable to greater levels of stress.
However, they came to the conclusion after reviewing the data that financial inequality between married couples was a major reason for the detrimental psychological impact on breadwinning men.
The sociologist viewed the responsibility faced by the men as the main factor, saying;
“It’s not about absolute income, it’s about how responsible you are for your family’s standard of living.”
“There is an element of breadwinning that’s stressful, but it’s only having health consequences because there’s something about you making a lot and your partner not making a lot”
This new study comes more than 40 years after the revered feminist author and academic Betty Friedan produced her study ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and seems to reiterate some of the earlier findings.
Freidan’s work argued that those couples, both men and women, who followed strict, traditional gender roles in heterosexual marriage would experience negative impacts.
She suggested that;
“People think gender roles are super-entrenched, and in some ways they are, but for most of history men and women have worked together, and there hasn’t been a homemaker and breadwinner model.”
“I think it’s totally possible to eradicate these expectations.”