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Male breadwinners have poor health, higher anxiety: research

Men who earn less than their partners are more likely to engage in domestic violence and infidelity, research suggests.

While some traditional roles have changed, the expectation that men should earn more than their partners persists, US researchers say

Male breadwinners have poor health, higher anxiety: research

Men who earn more money than their partners may be raking in the bucks but tend to have poor health and heightened anxiety, new research shows.

Researchers analysed surveys from 9000 young married men and women in the US taken annually over a 15-year period, and evaluated each participant’s response on income, health and psychological wellness.

They found that the more economic responsibility a man had in his marriage, the more his psychological wellbeing and health declined.

The findings suggest men who are primary breadwinners are worse off than men who earn salaries that are more equal to their partners.

“Our study contributes to a growing body of research that demonstrates the ways in which gendered expectations are harmful for men, too,” Christin Munsch of the University of Connecticut said.

“Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for one’s family with little or no help has negative repercussions.”

The surveys provided several more insights.

Men’s health and psychological states suffered most when they were their families’ sole breadwinners. These men had psychological wellness scores 5% lower, and health scores 3.5% lower, on average, than the years in which they earned salaries that were relatively equal to their partners.

In contrast, women who earned more money than their partners showed more positive mental health than when they earned less. Women’s physical health was not related to relative income.

Perhaps men’s health and psychological wellness would improve if they weren’t subjected to the “macho breadwinner” paradigm, the researchers said. While some male-gendered cultural mores have waned — for instance, fathers are increasingly expected to care for children and help with housework — the cultural expectation that men should earn more than their partners persists, the researchers said.

Men who earn less than their partners also may be subject to social pressures to be macho. These men “are more likely to engage in male-typed behaviours like domestic violence and infidelity, and less likely to engage in female-typed behaviours like housework,” the researchers wrote.

“Our study finds that decoupling breadwinning from masculinity has concrete benefits for both men and women,” Munsch said.

“Whereas men’s psychological wellbeing and health tend to increase as their wives take on more economic responsibility, women’s psychological wellbeing also improves as they take on more economic responsibility.”

The unpublished study was presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.

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