New research has found how sexist conventions about men earning more than their wives can actually harm men’s mental health.
As we continue to fight for women’s equality in the workplace, the big focus is on closing the unacceptable gender pay gap that still exists. Just last week, Equal Pay Day marked the day that women effectively stop getting paid for the rest of the year. This is because the average mean gender pay gap for full time workers in the UK is 13.1%.
Would closing the gap mean there are more female breadwinners at home? How would closing it affect personal relationships? And would life in the home change if women earned the amount of money they actually deserved to make?
These questions have come to light after the news that men actually feel stressed if their wife earns more than 40% of their combined household income. Yep, that’s right: research has found that women need to bring home a certain, smaller percentage of their household income than their husbands in order to make them feel less stressed.
Let’s take a look at the study in some more detail.
Researchers at the University of Bath found that husbands are least stressed when their wives earn up to 40% of the household income. But the men become increasingly stressed if their wives earn anything over that 40%. And men are most stressed when they are the sole providers.
So basically, women need to earn some money but not too much money – OK?
The study, which was conducted in America, examined 6,000 heterosexual couples over 15 years.
“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. They also show how strong and persistent are gender identity norms,” said Dr Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University’s School of Management.
“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 added.
However, Dr Syrda noted the study also showed that husbands in the study did not suffer psychological distress about their wives’ income if their wife was the higher earner before marriage and the existing and potential income gap was clear to them.
This suggests that a change in the relationship’s dynamic as a woman becomes more successful than the man is what causes much of the stress here.
Figures from the Pew Research Centre in the US show only 13% of married women earned more than their husbands in 1980. But by 2017, the figure was close to one third and the trend is likely to continue. Dr Syrda said she and other researchers were increasingly interested in how this would affect social norms, wellbeing, and our understanding of masculinity.
“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 continued.
She explained that the study also shed light on the ‘bargaining power’ between husband and wife.
“The elevated psychological distress that comes with husbands’ economic dependence on their wives can also have practical underpinnings due to bargaining in the shadow of dissolution or the fear of reduced economic status in the event of an actual divorce. These effects are larger among cohabiting couples, possibly due to the higher probability of dissolution,” she said.
But if anything, this research just makes us want to ask for that pay rise, go for that promotion and campaign for equal pay even more.