Study shows that female-breadwinner marriages are less happy and less stable

Stuart Schneiderman writes about a new study about marriages where the woman earns more money than the man.


The study performed by his colleagues shows that when women earn more than their husbands it is bad for their marriages.

Theoretically, Thaler says, married couples should be happy to see more money flowing into the family coffers. They should not care who is bringing home the bacon or the filet mignon. In the real world, couples do care:

Instead, there is a sharp drop in the number of male-female couples at exactly the point where the woman starts to earn more than half of household income.

You can blame this on social norms and outmoded gender identity expectations. What if social norms reflect a behavioral constant that cannot be eradicated with just a little nudge.

[…][T]he data suggest that when women earn more than men the rate of marriage declines:

This may be one of many reasons that the share of young adults in marriages decreased 30 to 50 percent across various racial and ethnic groups from 1970 to 2008. Clearly, a choice to marry later in life explains part of this decline, but Ms. Bertrand and her co-authors estimate that the trend in the percentage of women making more than men explains almost one-fourth of the marriage rate’s decline in the 40 years ended in 2010.

Of course, couples find ways to adapt to a woman’s greater earning potential. Thaler explains:

What happens when a man marries a woman who has the education and skills to earn more than him? The couple can avoid violating the “man earns more” social norm if the woman works part time or leaves the labor force altogether. The authors found evidence of both choices. But what if the woman stays in the labor force and does earn more than her spouse? How does this affect the marriage? The findings here are striking. In such couples, surveys show, both wife and husband generally report being less happy about the marriage.

Female breadwinner marriages are also more likely to lead to divorce:

Given these findings, it isn’t surprising that when a wife earns more than her husband, the risk of divorce rises, too. To study this, the authors used a survey conducted in two waves, 1987-88 and 1992-93. (There were no more recent data available for this particular test.) Then they investigated the likelihood of a divorce in the five-year interval. For this sample, some 12 percent of all couples were divorced during this period — a sobering fact about the stability of marriages in general. But the divorce rate rose by half, to about 18 percent, for couples in which the wife earned more than the husband.

Similarly, a British study showed that in female breadwinner marriages, the male is more likely to have been prescribed Viagra while the female is more likely to have been prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medication.

Housework is a factor, too

Here’s an AFP story about a recent study from Spain.


The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say: the more housework married men do, the less sex they have, according to a new study published Wednesday.

Husbands who spend more time doing traditionally female chores — such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping — reported having less sex than those who do more masculine tasks, said the study in the American Sociological Review.

“Our findings suggest the importance of socialized gender roles for sexual frequency in heterosexual marriage,” said lead author Sabino Kornrich, of the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid.

“Couples in which men participate more in housework typically done by women report having sex less frequently. Similarly, couples in which men participate more in traditionally masculine tasks — such as yard work, paying bills, and auto maintenance — report higher sexual frequency.”

His study, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” looks at straight married couples in the United States, and was based on data from the National Survey of Families and Households.

[…]“The results suggest the existence of a gendered set of sexual scripts, in which the traditional performance and display of gender is important for creation of sexual desire and performance of sexual activity,” Kornrich said.

Prior to that study, there was this Norwegian study about housework and divorce risk.


Couples who share housework duties run a higher risk of divorce than couples where the woman does most of the chores, a Norwegian study sure to get tongues wagging has shown.

The divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

“The more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate,” Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled Equality in the Home, said.

[…]“Maybe it’s sometimes seen as a good thing to have very clear roles with lots of clarity … where one person is not stepping on the other’s toes,” Mr Hansen suggested.

“There could be less quarrels, since you can easily get into squabbles if both have the same roles and one has the feeling that the other is not pulling his or her own weight,” he added.

These are things to think about. We have to let the way the world really is guide our decisions. Feminism might sound nice, but it’s not real world. In the real world, men are hard wired to want that provider/protector role. Do you want to have a happy marriage that lasts? Then learn about male roles from men, and not from a false ideology. Men need to be treated like men and they need to be encouraged to be male, and recognized for acting out male roles. Men are not woman, and forcing them take female roles is no good for anyone. Discriminating against men in school so that they underperform at male roles later on doesn’t work for anyone.

5 thoughts on “Study shows that female-breadwinner marriages are less happy and less stable”

  1. There’s also the part where women are told that they’re supposed to be as much of a man as men, and that if they’re successful at work they’ll be happy.

    When they’re not, then obviously the problem is their husband. Can’t possibly be the ideology, right?

    From where I stand, women are very prone to feeling like they’re forced to do everything. (Part of why I didn’t like any of my female superiors; martyr syndrome.) If they REALLY ARE bringing home a sizable chunk of the money, and they do housework and childcare– from observation, “enough” of either has a very, very big divide male to female– then that can easily spiral out of control.

    If the man involved is human and thus sometimes does annoying, dumb stuff like ask “how can I help/tell me what you need done” and followed by the twin answers: “well, you should have told me exactly what you wanted”/”you can ask me to do something or you can get it done exactly the way you want, but not both,” then follows up THAT by responding to any mention from the woman that she feels like she’s doing too much by saying some version of “I offer, but you never let me help”….
    Yeah, explosions on the horizon.

    It’s wise to avoid setting up situations where natural weaknesses find opportunities for indulgence and support of bad feelings. Think of it as being like not hiring a young, attractive female personal assistant and then spending long hours of overtime with just her…..


  2. Excellent article – The double standard is breathtaking !!
    It is interesting to see what outcomes when the gender roles reverse in regarding the breadwinner / houseperson.
    The divorce rate was lower and the families more stable when traditional roles were in place.
    Whether male/female -the “houseperson” is the hardest job in the entire world and is under-appreciated and overlooked in importance of society and the family.
    Come on ladies – lets see what you can do :)


  3. I think it would depend upon the couples as well. There are already plenty of women who earn more than men for sometime now.

    Years ago I was unemployed for a few months and lived with a lady. She got mad one time accusing me of enjoying the life too much. I told her all I’m missing is a paycheck; other than that, I was more than happy to stay home and attend to things and did not miss sitting in a damn cube under fluorescent lamps working with adult high schoolers.

    I enjoy cooking and washing clothes and some vacuuming is not that big a deal. Since it did not consume all my time or physical and mental energy, I was free to do other things that I liked. I helped her in the morning, made a sure a hot meal was was there at home in the evening. In between, I exercised, read, tinkered with electronics. Man, this oppression stuff is tough!


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