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Who’s Happiest Bringing Home the Money?


Who's Happiest Bringing Home the Money?

Who makes the money in your household, and how happy are they?

Your assumptions might be wrong, according to a study by Christin Munsch, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut.

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog featured a post by Danielle Paquette that outlines Munsch’s study of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth — 14 years’ worth of data! The survey measures the well-being of young adults nationwide. About 3,100 people, aged 18 to 32, took the survey on the last day of 1996 and answered the same questions every year until 2011.

Munsch inferred from the data that men who took on the responsibility for the larger share of household income had lower physical and mental health scores. She concluded that both men and women were happier when women made most of the money.

It was a puzzling result that defied conventional wisdom, Paquette wrote in her August 19 post. From Munsch’s study, “we learn that men are more likely to blindly take on responsibilities with work because they’re associated with more income.” On the other hand, Munsch said, “Women are more likely to ask: Do I like this? Do I want to do this?”

Survey respondents were asked to signal how frequently during the past month they felt nervous, calm and peaceful, downhearted and blue, happy, and “so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up.” They also rated their physical health on a scale of one to five.

Then, Munsch and her researchers calculated earnings of the couple and broke down who made more and by how much.

Men whose spouses contributed equally had an average well-being score of 3.33. Men who contributed less than a 25 percent of household income had a score of 3.33. Those who contributed twice as much dropped to 3.27. Those men identifying as complete breadwinners had a score of 3.17.

With the female respondents, it was the opposite. “The more money they made relative to their partners, the better off they seemed to be,” Paquette noted.


However, Munsch said these findings aren’t necessarily surprising; the survey included millennials — or those on the edge of qualifying as millennials — who tend to favor a more equal marriage. That was not the case for older generations of spouses.

Breadwinning, however, is stressful, Munsch explained in the study’s findings. She noted, “Women could be more inclined to take high-pressure jobs they enjoy and relish stepping into a social role that was once taboo.”

Men might accept a high salary, said Munsch, because “they feel obligated to shoulder the household burden along. Feeling forced into a lifestyle could drag down anyone’s sense of inner peace.”

The lesson of such studies is that couples will negotiate their own lifestyle when it comes to breadwinning. Diversity within marriages is growing, and the happy, well-adjusted families we watched on TV during our youth may not define today’s families. More men may be turning down promotions to spend time with their children. More women may be happy to step into roles that all too often were claimed by men.

The overall lesson is to welcome diversity in all areas of life, and to take the time to listen and understand what your employees need, rather than making assumptions based on unconscious bias. Be inclusive!

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