Men’s economic dependency only stresses them out when they hold ‘traditional’ gender attitudes

New research provides evidence that gender ideology might play an important role in the relationship between men’s economic dependence on their wives and allostatic load, a biomarker of chronic exposure to stress.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that men who were financially dependent on their wives and who also had more traditional beliefs about gender roles tended to have higher allostatic loads.

“I wanted to include men in the discussion of gender equality. Male breadwinning is one of the most rigid gender norms that shape men’s expectations, behaviors, and feelings,” said study author Joeun Kim, a doctoral candidate at Penn State.

The researchers examined data from 348 married or cohabiting heterosexual men who had participated in the Midlife in the United States study.

The study collected data on the men’s health, ideologies about gender, and income, among other things. Saliva, blood and urine samples were used to calculate the participants’ allostatic load.

The researchers found that there was no general association between men having partners who make more money than they do and a higher allostatic load. But when the researchers took into account the men’s beliefs about gender roles, they found men who held more traditional views tended to have a higher allostatic load when they earned less than their wife.

In other words, economically dependent men who disagreed with statements such as “Men should equally share housework” and “Men should equally share child care” were more likely to suffer a higher allostatic load.

Economically dependent men who agreed with the egalitarian statements, on the other hand, tended to have lower levels of allostatic load than noneconomically dependent men.

“This study shows that egalitarian gender views could promote men’s health when men encounter atypical gender circumstances,” Kim told PsyPost.

“Debates over the shifting economic roles between men and women over the last few decades have ​mainly focused on conflicts between men and women. The findings of this study show that gender-flexible ideals (or non-gender essentialist ideals) could be beneficial for both men and women.”

But all research includes some limitations, and the current study is no exception.

“A large majority of our sample includes White middle-class men at midlife. Our findings may not hold among men with different racial or socioeconomic characteristics, different gender or sexual identities, or for younger cohorts, many of whom could hold varying expectations regarding male breadwinning responsibilities,” Kim explained.

“Throughout the paper, we were very cautious about the causal languages. Given the limitation of the data, we were unable to strictly identify causal relationships between men’s economic dependency, gender ideology, and allostatic load. We encourage future studies to address this methodological gap.”

The study, “Men’s Economic Dependency, Gender Ideology, and Stress at Midlife“, was authored by Joeun Kim and Nancy Luke.