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Being the Breadwinner Still Large Part of Male Identity, Study Finds


The days when providing an income stream was the sole province of husbands vanished long ago, and according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 37 percent of wives made more money than their husbands last year.

For these women’s mates, this imbalance has the potential to impact their sense of the quality of their romantic relationship. According to Masculinity ideology, income disparity, and romantic relationship quality among men with higher earning female partners (Sex Roles, 2012), by Patrick Coughlin, FCRH ’10, and Jay Wade, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, it can be negative, if the men embrace traditional masculine identity.

The study, which was Coughlin’s senior honor’s thesis, surveyed 47 men who were involved romantically with a woman who earned more than them. Although the sample of respondents was small, Wade said the results were robust, and he called them an impetus for other researchers to examine this phenomenon with a larger cohort.

“Over time, men’s attitudes toward traditional masculinity have changed, particularly millennial men in their 20s and 30s. They’re much less restricted in their ways of expressing their manhood than any prior generation,” he said.

“But one thing that has not changed is the role being a financial provider. A man feels that if he’s going to get married and have children, he should be able to provide for his wife and children. I think that is as true today as it was when my father in the 1950’s was having his family.”

However, Wade said, since the 60s and 70s eras of women’s liberation, men are much more accepting of shared income and have redefined what “manhood” means to include caring for children at home.

With women currently attending college and entering the workforce in higher numbers than men, and the globalized economy forcing more families to rely on two incomes, this is an issue that will only grow in relevance, he said.

“When men are not in the traditional role of breadwinner, the man and the woman still find some way to make the man feel like, he’s maybe not the breadwinner, but he’s [still]the head of the household,” he said.


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