Breadwinners are bringing home stress, not bacon

Assistant Professor Christin Munsch led the research showing the link between contributions to income and a decline in mental health. (Courtesy/UConn Sociology department)

Strong stereotypes and cultural expectations of males being breadwinners have lead to a decline in their psychological and physical health, according to research done at The University of Connecticut.  

Christin Munsch, assistant professor of sociology, along with graduate students, used national surveys to find that the relationship between contributions to income lead to a decline of the psychological health and well-being of men.

So much about our cultural stereotypes leads to implications on health and mental health, Munsch said. Even the fact that our standard work day is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. suggests that someone should be taking care of the home while one partner is out working.  

Munsch explains that there were two ways to look at how our culture could affect male breadwinners. One is that male health would improve because they meet cultural expectations as breadwinners.  

“On the other hand,” Munsch said, “being a breadwinner is also very stressful, so we could expect a decline in health.” 

Munsch tracked the same individuals over 15 years of data to ensure a wide range of data.  

Munsch said she noticed that male health declined not while they were financially dependent, but only while they were breadwinners of a family.  

On the other hand, Munsch found that women adversely affected by being economically dependent; the psychological well being of women increased when they were the breadwinners.  

“I think psychologically being a breadwinner for men and women are very different,” Munsch said. “Males being a breadwinner is expected, so if he loses that status he becomes a loser. Women get a lot of credit and value out of being seen as a breadwinner. If she loses it (this status) she isn’t seen as a loser, she goes back to the status quo.” 

“On the other hand,” Christine Munsch, leader of the study, said, “being a breadwinner is also very stressful, so we could expect a decline in health.” (Flickr/cookbookman17)

Additionally, Munsch explain that since men are expected in our society to be breadwinners, they are more likely to take opportunities and climb the corporate ladder in order to earn a higher income. However, these promotions may not necessarily make men happy if they are working in a position they do not enjoy as much.  

Women, however, are less likely to take these opportunities just for a higher income and more often choose to stick with a career they like, Munsch said.  

“The solution is to not make the breadwinner a masculine trait in our culture. Partners should create conversation about taking more responsibilities at work or home,” Munsch said.


Emma Krueger is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.krueger@uconn.edu.