January 2002

From Penn State

Increases in wives' income contributions affect psychological well-being of husbands

University Park, Pa. -- Being the main breadwinner still seems to carry an important distinction for husbands and their sense of well-being, says a Penn State researcher. In reacting to increases in their wives' percentage contribution to overall family income, men appear to experience declines in well-being as measured by their reports of depressed feelings, varying levels of life satisfaction and physical symptoms such as headaches, says Dr. Stacy J. Rogers, assistant professor of sociology and human development and family studies. She notes that, paradoxically, the husbands' marital happiness is not affected to a significant degree. "It may be that the persistence of bread-winning expectations for men in our culture contributes to personal pressure and stress when their wives increase the percentage that they are contributing to the total household income," Rogers notes.

This negative psychological effect is not related to husbands' level of education or whether or not they have traditional gender role attitudes, according to the Penn State researcher. It is also not related to husbands' own reduced resources as a result of periods of unemployment or declines in income.

"It is important to note that the decline in husbands' well-being is relatively modest but it is interesting that this reduced well-being does not seem to make their marriages more vulnerable to divorce," Rogers says. "Having additional financial resources in the family and the enhanced marital satisfaction and psychological well-being experienced by wives when their income increases may actually stabilize marriages. "Interesting enough, neither the marital happiness nor the psychological well-being of husbands is affected by an increase in their wives' absolute income, but only by an increase in their percentage contributions. It may be that increases in percentage contributions are more visible in the marriage," Rogers adds.

Rogers and Dr. Danelle D. DeBoer, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, are co-authors of the paper, "Changes in Wives' Income: Effects on Marital Happiness, Psychological Well-Being and the Risk of Divorce," which recently appeared in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. The researchers employed data from a sample of 1,047 married persons (not married to each other), measuring the impact of changes in wives' income and corresponding levels of marital happiness and psychological well-being between 1980 and 1988. They then related these findings to the incidence of divorce in the same sample between 1988 and 1997.

Other factors may contribute to the decline in psychological well-being of husbands when their wives' percentage contribution to the family income increases, Rogers notes.

"Married women may draw attention to the increased size of their contribution as a means to obtain greater equity in decision-making and sharing of household duties with men," says the Penn State researcher. "This may be unwelcome to some married men and therefore lower their psychological well-being, though their marital happiness is unaffected. This finding is consistent with the notion that marriage continues to be highly valued but that it may be a more difficult and personally challenging arrangement in the current social and economic climate."

This research was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.











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