Women more likely to feel depressed as breadwinners, study finds

Attitudes have changed since the days when men brought home the paycheck and women stayed at home with the children.

But, according to new research, switching these ‘conventional’ gender roles is making both sexes unhappy.

When females were the main breadwinner in the family, they were discovered to report more symptoms of depression.

However, the opposite effect was found in men: Their psychological well-being was highest when they were the primary wage-earners.

Key findings 

Researchers at the University of Illinois examined data on nearly 1,500 men and 1,800 women, aged between 52 and 60. Their well-being was evaluated through surveys.

The researchers first found that men’s well-being decreased once they had exited the workforce to become home-makers.

Meanwhile, the inverse was not so for women: Women’s psychological well-being was not affected by leaving their jobs to become stay-at-home mothers.

‘We observed a statistically significant and substantial difference in depressive symptoms between men and women in our study,’ says lead researcher Karen Kramer.

‘The results supported the overarching hypothesis: well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations.’

Why is this the case?

While women have more educational and career opportunities than their mothers and grandmothers, society’s expectations about men and women’s roles in the workplace and home have been slower to evolve, the researchers say.

Men and women who deviate from ‘conventional gender roles’ – especially fathers who leave work to care for children full time – may be perceived negatively, which in turn can affect their mental health, the study suggests.

The researchers found that wives who believed they and their husband had equal responsibilities when it comes to bringing in money and care-taking had improved mental health when their wages more closely matched their partner’s.

Men, however, almost always took a psychological hit when their wife’s income increased beyond their own, no matter what their beliefs were.

‘Work identity and the traditional role of primary earner are still critical for men, even when they have more egalitarian gender ideology,’ the researchers said.

The study’s findings were presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Montreal. 

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