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Does Female Breadwinning Make Partnerships Less Healthy or Less Stable?


  • Foster, Gigi

    () (University of New South Wales)

  • Stratton, Leslie S.

    () (Virginia Commonwealth University)


Economists increasingly accept that social norms have powerful effects on human behavior and outcomes. In recent history, one norm widely adhered to in most developed nations has been for men to be the primary breadwinner within mixed-gender households. As women have entered the labor market in greater numbers and gender wage differentials have declined, female breadwinning has become more common in such nations. Has this been accompanied by worse outcomes in non-monetary realms, due to the violation of the male breadwinning norm? This would be evidence that norms act to slow the pace of social evolution. We use household data from two countries to examine whether female breadwinning makes partnerships less healthy or less stable. US data from the late twentieth century shows that female breadwinning is associated with significantly more partnership problems for older couples in cross-sections and for younger couples in fixed-effects specifications. Examining more recent US and Australian data, we find that female breadwinning is associated with a modestly higher dissolution risk and a fall in some measures of reported relationship quality, but mainly for young people in cohabiting partnerships and men in less educated partnerships. We interpret these results to reflect changing social norms, plus relationship market dynamics arising from differences in the ease of access to superior partnership alternatives for women who out-earn their partners. While gender-specific breadwinning norms may be fading with time, economic realities and marriage market dynamics continue to be drivers of behavior and outcomes.

Suggested Citation

  • Foster, Gigi & Stratton, Leslie S., 2018. "Does Female Breadwinning Make Partnerships Less Healthy or Less Stable?," IZA Discussion Papers 11938, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11938

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ariel J. Binder & David Lam, 2018. "Is There a Male Breadwinner Norm? The Hazards of Inferring Preferences from Marriage Market Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 24907, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Kerwin Kofi Charles & Jonathan Guryan & Jessica Pan, 2018. "The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination," NBER Working Papers 24904, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Gigi Foster & Leslie S. Stratton, 2018. "Do significant labor market events change who does the chores? Paid work, housework, and power in mixed-gender Australian households," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 31(2), pages 483-519, April.
    4. Gigi Foster & Leslie S. Stratton, 2019. "What women want (their men to do): Housework and Satisfaction in Australian Households," Feminist Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(3), pages 23-47, July.
    5. Marianne Bertrand & Emir Kamenica & Jessica Pan, 2015. "Gender Identity and Relative Income within Households," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(2), pages 571-614.
    6. Zinovyeva, Natalia & Tverdostup, Maryna, 2018. "Gender Identity, Co-Working Spouses and Relative Income within Households," IZA Discussion Papers 11757, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
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    More about this item


    martial dissolution; happiness; family structure; economics of gender; social norms; earnings differentials;

    JEL classification:

    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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