His and Her Marriage Today: Gendered Models of How Wives’ Income Impacts Husbands’ Later Mid-Life Health

Kristen W. Springer, Rutgers University-Department of Sociology

This study presents the theoretical development and empirical assessment of three models that describe how ideological norms about male breadwinning shape the effect of wives’ income on husbands’ health. Drawing from research on spousal health effects and on the gendered division of household labor, this study uses husbands’ health as a key measure of well-being and as a heuristic to understand the persistence of gendered marital inequality. Analysis of parallel spousal data from the Health and Retirement Study shows that a husband’s health is adversely impacted when he earns less than his wife, pointing to gendered expectations of primary breadwinning as a cause of poor health. This effect is pronounced among highest-earning men, for whom the cultural ideal of male breadwinning is strongest. These findings contradict earlier research that identifies wives’ work itself as contributing to husbands’ ill health.

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Presented in Session 174: Husbands, Wives, Marriage, and Health