New Study Says Men Still Prefer to Be Breadwinners, Can't Handle 50/50 Income Split

The new research doesn't make a good case for the end of the male breadwinner.

Shot of a woman comforting her distraught husband at home by putting her hand on his shoulder
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Today, many married couples consider it healthy to evenly divide things up, from the chores to the expenses. But, according to a new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the male breadwinner stereotype is a tough one to shake. Dr. Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath's School of Management, surveyed more than 6,000 American heterosexual couples over the course of 15 years, and found that husbands were at their least anxious when their wives made up to 40 percent of the household income, but their "psychological distress" seemed to increase as their wives' earnings rose beyond that point.

Granted, Syrda found that men were also likely to be the most stressed if they were solely responsible for the family's finances, but the findings also showed that splitting things up 50/50 wasn't great for the mental health of husbands either. Men were also most stressed if they were entirely dependent on their wives' earnings, which doesn't bode well for the rise of the stay-at-home dad.

"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," Syrda said in a statement.

She added that while "the results may change as times move on," these current findings "point to the persistence of gender identity norms." She also noted that some of this psychological distress may be due to a loss of bargaining power, as men who are financially dependent on their wives may worry that they'd be left at an economic disadvantage in the case of divorce.

Previous research has also shown that men who are financially dependent on their wives are three times more likely to cheat than men who are the breadwinners in their relationships, the theory similarly being that it's because this negatively impacts their ego.

There is, however, an uplifting finding from Syra's research: It seems that men did not suffer psychological distress if their wives were the higher earners before they got married, possibly because they knew that it was going to be the arrangement going into the marriage.

It's also interesting to note that the study found that women thought their husbands' levels of psychological distress would be lowest when they made 50 percent of the household income, suggesting that there may be a lack of frank discussion between married heterosexual couples on this particular topic.

"The fact that a wife observes to a lesser degree her husband's elevated psychological distress when he is financially dependent on her may be simply because he does not communicate it—this may be yet another manifestation of gender norms," Syrda said. "If masculine social roles preclude the admission of vulnerability, and men are inclined to hide symptoms of stress and depression, it follows that wives' responses about their spouses will be less accurate."

If there's one thing that all marriage experts agree on, it's that honest communication is the centerpiece of a healthy relationship. So whether you want to split chores and expenses evenly, or whether you'd prefer to adhere more closely to traditional gender roles of male breadwinners and female homemakers, anything can work so long as you come to an arrangement that makes both of you comfortable.

And for more advice on conversations with your significant other, check out 20 Things You Should Never Say In an Argument With Your Spouse.

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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