His and Her Marriage Today: The impact of wives' employment on husbands' later mid-life health

TitleHis and Her Marriage Today: The impact of wives' employment on husbands' later mid-life health
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsSpringer, KW
Date Published2006
UniversityThe University of Wisconsin - Madison
CityUnited States -- Wisconsin
KeywordsAdult children, Demographics, Health Conditions and Status, Methodology, Women and Minorities

Marriage is a highly gendered institution with expectations, norms, and resources organized through gender relations. The short-lived, though idealized, 1950s' notion of the "male breadwinner" solidified men's power in marriage through economic contributions from paid employment. However, the last several decades have witnessed an explosion of wives entering the labor market, all but demolishing the reality of the male breadwinner. This dissertation situates itself in this historical context to explore how wives' employment affects husbands' health. By combining gender literature on the breadwinner role with health inequalities literature, this dissertation utilizes feminist theories to contextualize men's health while at the same time using health as a heuristic to examine gender inequality and gender relations in marriage. I analyze longitudinal data on married couples from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to find strong evidence that a wife's employment impacts a husband's health only when he fails to achieve the normative prescription of the family breadwinner---supporting what I've termed the changing gendered-norms model. I found no support for the predominant sociological explanation that a wife's employment harms a husband's health because it limits her time available for caregiving. The starving hearts model which posits ill health effects of the social and financial burden associated with breadwinning also failed to explain the relationship between wives' employment and husbands' health. Further exploration of mechanisms driving the changing gendered-norms model did not support standard marital relations explanations including the economic resource mechanism and the marital dissatisfaction mechanism. In other words, husbands' health is not harmed because high earning wives exercise power in marital decisions nor is husbands' health harmed because economically dependent husbands are dissatisfied with their marriages. Rather, the results indicate that a husband's economic dependency adversely impacts his health through a masculinity threat resulting from having a primary breadwinning wife. These results underscore that gender inequality and ideological norms that privilege men are the sources of husbands' ill health associated with wives' employment. Social policies designed to dismantle the male breadwinner ideology and support combining home with work could improve women's social status while enhancing men's health.

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Short TitleHis and Her Marriage Today: The impact of wives' employment on husbands' later mid-life health
Citation Key6106