WOMEN
03/13/2013 01:51 pm ET

Breadwinner Norms Affect Relationships, Marriage Dynamics, Study Finds

We hear it every day: Women are more professionally and financially successful than they've ever been, but society hasn't entirely made peace with that. A new study underscores that point, indicating that women bringing home more money than their male partners are still expected to fulfill traditional roles in relationships.

The research, out of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, found that the traditional idea of the male as a breadwinner continues to shape romantic relationships and marriages and can make it harder for successful women to find and keep a mate.

Economists Marianne Bertrand, Emir Kamenica and Jessica Pan found that potential heretosexual couples are less likely to date long-term if the woman out-earns the man. The researchers also found that women with higher earning potential than their husbands are less likely to be working -- and earn less than they ideally could when they are working. Furthermore, Bertrand and Pan discovered that couples were more likely to divorce when the woman out-earned the man.

The team conducted their research using data from the 1970-2000 census, 2010 ACS 3-year aggregate and National Survey of Family and Households (NSFH).

Emily Jasper at Forbes Woman commented on the implications of this study for successful women:

Understanding that my salary could lead to my future divorce is unsettling indeed. The paper draws correlations, so I know a higher salary isn’t the only reason a couple splits, but it’s interesting to think my dating pool might be significantly diminished if my salary is an issue for men.

The researchers also discovered that, among heterosexual married couples, the gender-gap in "non-market work" is larger if the wife earns more than the husband. In other words, women who out-earn their husbands consistently spend more time completing household chores and domestic labor than women who don't.

A recent study conducted by sociologists Amanda J. Miller and Sharon Sassler echoed these findings. Miller and Sassler interviewed 30 cohabitating but unmarried couples about the division of labor and gender roles within their household and discovered that, "Even those men who were being supported by their partners generally lived under the assumption that the man is the head of the household and the woman is largely responsible for domestic work."

In a University of Indianapolis press release, Miller stated: “While [men] were content to let their girlfriends pay at least half of the rent, they admitted that they had no plans to take on half of the housework, even if their partners were very unhappy about doing more than their fair share.”

Pretty depressing, but according to Miller, there is at least one sign that relationships will become more equitable going forward. She told Anna North at BuzzFeed Shift that college-educated men are changing their attitudes about domestic roles: "Many of them now see equal participation in housework as part of their responsibility as a partner."

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