Does race matter? – Gender and society

Does race matter?  - Gender and society
Written by admin

By Wen Fan

In the United States, heterosexual marriages where the wife earns more than the husband are on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 women outearn their husbands in nearly 30% of dual-earner couples, up from just 18% in the 1980s. This is despite the fact that traditional ideas persist and many men still feel strong pressure to be the breadwinner.

Clearly, there is a mismatch between women’s increasing economic power and the still-prevailing traditional or “neo-traditional” male-breadwinner model, a model in which wives either do not work or work but earn far less than their husbands. Does this gap cause stress? Google certainly thinks so. Quick Search “wife’s breadwinner’ leads to autocomplete terms like ‘frustrating’, ‘divorce’ or ‘want divorce’. This is consistent with previous research showing increased marital dissatisfaction and the risk of marital dissolution when wives earn more.

However, it is less understood whether this pattern mainly reflects the experiences of white couples. Families in which the wife is the sole or primary breadwinner are much more common among blacks than whites. This can be traced back to the exceptional history of black labor. For example, black men do not enjoy higher pay (the “daddy bonus”) than their white counterparts when they become fathers. Shared provider parents who both work for pay have long been the norm for black married couples. Indeed, a recent interview study suggests that a key component of being a strong black woman is being able to provide for her family financially. Being an equal or sole breadwinner is not difficult for black women.

Considering the racial diversity of breadwinner meanings, in my recent article Gender and Society I use the 1999– in 2017 A study by the Income Dynamics Data Group to examine whether female breadwinners still cause marital strain and whether this differs for black and white families. I consider both psychological distress and heavy drinking to be indicators of stress in married, non-Hispanic white and black men and women. In this blog, I focus on how breadwinning contributes differently to stress for white and black men.

Given that white men are more likely to expect a man to be the breadwinner, white men are less stressed as they move away from economic dependence. As their household income falls from 0% to 50%, we find a significant reduction in psychological distress and heavy drinking (see Figure Panel A for the result on binge drinking). However, when they earn more than half of the income and this ratio increases, so does their heavy drinking. You can see this in the picture, where stress is high when there is no income, the lowest is shared feeding, and again high when men bear all the financial responsibility. Being the primary or sole breadwinner can be stressful for white men who are under pressure to maintain the family’s financial well-being.

However, the pattern of black men contributing more to their couples’ earnings is associated with steadily increasing odds of drinking (see Figure Panel B). Unlike their white counterparts, black men’s alcohol consumption is increasing, not decreasing. Given occupational segregation by race and gender, greater economic input may mean that blacks spend more time in disadvantaged, possibly racist, work environments. Also, black men can face confrontation and discrimination in the workplace, and we see increased stress when contributing more to meals.

A. White men

B. Black men

In conclusion, it does not appear that all men are consistently predicted to perform better or worse. The (neo)traditional model of bread, based largely on the experiences of white men and white women, appears to be burdened by racial norms. White men and black men struggle quite differently with the constant expectations they place economically on their families. White men do best when they are equal co-workers and still feel stressed when they earn far less than their wives. But they also experience more stress when they are solely responsible for their families’ economic well-being. In comparison, the higher share of family income earned by married black men, the more stress they experience. Combined, gendered marriage norms and racial beliefs and practices define who is a “good” man or a “good” woman, which in turn affects stress differently between men and women.

Wen Fan, assistant professor of sociology at Boston College, conducts research on how social change, work environments, and family dynamics intersect to shape health and well-being. Her current research focuses on new ways of working, including an NSF-funded project on remote and blended work during COVID-19 and a project to test a global four-day workweek. She also studies the socioeconomic and mental health impacts of the pandemic in China.

About the author


Leave a Comment