Total Rewards Asia Summit 2024 Singapore
human resources online

Bizarre HR: Husbands get stressed if wives bring home more than 40% of household income

Being a manager is exciting because of the new challenges that you overcome daily - and at the same time, you're catering your company's policies for employees who are diverse in their thinking, mindset, and their value drivers.

So in today's edition of Bizarre HR, new research shows that husbands are least stressed when their wives earn up to 40% of household income. However, they become increasingly uncomfortable as their spouse's contribution to the household rises beyond 40%. - so much so, that husband are most stressed when they are entirely economically dependent on their partner.

This study of over 6,000 American heterosexual couples over 15 years from University of Bath showed husbands are at their most anxious when they are the sole breadwinner, shouldering all the burden of responsibility for the household's finances.

Gradually, stress levels decline as their wives' earnings approach 40% of household income, post which stress levels again start gradually increasing.

What the data implies

"These 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.

She noted that the results are strong enough to point to the persistence of gender identity norms, and to their part in male mental health issues; adding that such persistent distress can lead to many adverse health problems, including physical illness, and mental, emotional and social problems.

Dr Syrda noted the study 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 meaning of psychological distress

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," Dr Syrda said.

In fact, wives reported their husbands' lowest distress level was when they were contributing 50% of the household income, while husbands reported lowest distress when their wives contributed 40%.

"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," she said.

Photo / StockUnlimited

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

Free newsletter

Get the daily lowdown on Asia's top Human Resources stories.

We break down the big and messy topics of the day so you're updated on the most important developments in Asia's Human Resources development – for free.

subscribe now open in new window