Study Says When Men Are Breadwinners, It's More Money, More Problems

New research looks at how the pressure of being a sole earner can take its toll on men's health and well being.
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More money, more problems, right? At least that's the premise of a new study out of the University of Connecticut that looked at how the traditional pressure on men to be the breadwinners of their families impacts their overall health and well being.

The study, "Relative Income, Psychological Well-Being, and Health: Is Breadwinning Hazardous or Protective?" will be presented at the American Sociological Association's 111th Annual Meeting this weekend.

To reach their conclusions, researchers looked at married men and women from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, over the course of 15 years, and found that men took on more financial responsibility in their marriages at the expense of their psychological well- being and health. In fact, when men were the sole earners in their families, their health was at its worst.

"Our study contributes to a growing body of research that demonstrates the ways in which gendered expectations are harmful for men too," study author Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, said in a press release. "Men are expected to be breadwinners, yet providing for one's family with little or no help has negative repercussions."

What I found most interesting about the study was that breadwinning had the opposite effect on women's psychological well being. As women made greater financial contributions to the family, their physical health was unaffected but their psychological well-being improved, suggesting a sense of pride and accomplishment goes a long way for a woman's state of mind.

Munsch explains the differences in how the sexes are impacted by breadwinning this way: "Men who make a lot more money than their partners may approach breadwinning with a sense of obligation and worry about maintaining breadwinner status. Women, on the other hand, may approach breadwinning as an opportunity or choice."

I'm remembering the line in one of my favorite movies, Parenthood, in which Steve Martin's character, Gil, a dad of three, says, "Women have choices, and men have responsibilities." While this is definitely a traditional view of how families function, it's true of many families, including my own. My husband is the primary breadwinner. And admittedly, I work because I want to, not because if I didn't, we couldn't pay the mortgage. Still, my income takes some financial burden of raising a family of five off of my husband—something he readily admits.

But every family is different. Many of my mom friends do not work so they can stay home with their kids. So based on this study's findings, what are they to do? Just wait for their husbands to have a mental breakdown?

No, it's about looking at career advancement differently, according to Munsch, who told Parents.com, "Because there is such a strong cultural expectation that men breadwin, a lot of men don't think about the repercussions of taking on more responsibility at work. This is especially true for men with dependents."

She added: "It's just assumed that a bigger paycheck is going to be good for men and their families. But this research shows this isn't necessarily the case. I would encourage men to really think about the pros and cons associated with climbing the corporate ladder and only take advantage of so-called opportunities when they are in line with their interests and will still allow them to take care of themselves physically and emotionally."

So in other words, it's all about balance. And realizing that more money doesn't always equal greater happiness. It's a topic I think about a lot, since as my husband "climbs the corporate ladder," he definitely spends less time at home with the family. Quite frankly, I'd rather have him here than driving a Porsche.

What about you?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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