Husbands’ Stress Level Spikes When Their Wife Earns More Than 40 Percent Of Household Income

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  • Husbands are least stressed when their wives earn up to 40 percent of the household income
  • Husbands do not suffer distress related to their partner’s income when their wife was already earning more than them before the marriage
  • Only 13 percent of married women earned more than their husband in 1980, but this increased to 31 percent in 2017

Gone are the days when most women rely on their husband to bring in money for the family, but in this age when many women have become breadwinners themselves, many men apparently still want to be the man of the house.

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In a new study that involved more than 6,000 American couples, Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath’s School of Management, found that husbands tend to be least stressed when their wives earn up to 40 percent of the household income.

This, however, changes as their spouse’s wages increase beyond that point. They are most stressed when they become entirely economically dependent on their partner.

Syrda said that the findings suggest that social norms about men being the breadwinner of the family and traditional conventions that men should earn more than their wives can be dangerous for men’s health. The results also show that gender identity norms are still strong and persistent.

“The results are strong enough to point to the persistence of gender identity norms, and to their part in male mental health issues,” Syrda said. “Persistent distress can lead to many adverse health problems, including physical illness, and mental, emotional and social problems.”

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The study nonetheless showed that husbands do not suffer distress related to their partner’s income when their wife was already earning more than them before the marriage, and the existing and potential income gap was clear to them.

“Interestingly, the relationship between wife’s relative income and husband’s psychological distress is not found among couples where wives outearned husbands at the beginning of their marriage pointing to importance of marital selection,” Syrca wrote in her study, which was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin on October 2019.

According to Pew Research Center, only 13 percent of married women earned more than their husband in 1980, but this increased to 31 percent in 2017.