London: If your wife earns more than you, especially after marriage, and you are facing some sort of mental stress for quite some time, there is a definite link between the two.
An interesting study has found that husbands are least stressed when their wives earn up to 40 per cent of household income but become increasingly uncomfortable as their spouse’s wages rise beyond that point and are most stressed when they are entirely economically dependent on their partner.
The research from the University of Bath also showed that husbands did not suffer psychological distress about their wives’ income if their wife was the higher earner before marriage and the existing and potential income gap was clear to them.
The study of over 6,000 American heterosexual couples over 15 years showed husbands are at their most anxious when they are the sole breadwinner, shouldering all the burden of responsibility for the household’s finances.
Stress levels decline as their wives’ earnings approach 40 per cent of household income. But as women’s earnings go through that point, the study showed husbands’ stress levels gradually increasing.
“The findings suggest that social norms about male breadwinning — and traditional conventions about men earning more than their wives — can be dangerous for men’s health. They also show how strong and persistent are gender identity norms,” said Dr Joanna Syrda, an economist at the University of Bath’s School of Management.
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The study also sheds light on the ‘bargaining power’ between husband and wife.
“The elevated psychological distress that comes with husbands’ economic dependence on their wives can also have practical underpinnings due to bargaining in the shadow of dissolution or the fear of reduced economic status in the event of an actual divorce. These effects are larger among cohabiting couples, possibly due to the higher probability of dissolution,” she elaborated.
The study also showed a disparity in the way husbands and wives assessed their own psychological distress and that of their partner.
Survey respondents were asked to measure distress in terms of feeling sad, nervous, restless, hopeless, worthless, or that everything was an effort. Men reported better mental health than their wives reported on their behalf.
“This too may be down to gender norms. 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,” said Dr Syrda.
In fact, wives reported their husbands’ lowest distress level was when they were contributing 50 per cent of the household income, while husbands reported lowest distress when their wives contributed 40 per cent.
“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, a finding that has implications for managing male mental health and society’s understanding of masculinity itself,” the researchers elaborated.
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, showed the findings published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.