Masculinity, as a set of attributes and standards traditionally associated with Being A Man, is stifling, systemic, and practically inescapable. The norms around it make it hard for men to enjoy objectively good things, like drinking water, nutting in November, or, apparently, being married to someone who makes more money than they do. A new longitudinal study from the University of Bath followed 6,000 heterosexual American couples over a 15-year span and tracked men’s stress levels in relation to household income. Men were the most stressed when they were the sole earners, bringing in 100 percent of the money, which makes sense—that’s a lot of pressure! But men’s stress levels weren’t the lowest when the burden of “making the big bucks” (my words, not science’s) was split evenly between them and their wife. Instead, men self-reported the least amount of stress when their wife was earning 40 percent of the household income, while they brought in the other 60. I just think it’s funny, that’s all!
On the one hand, this is great news for me, a woman who does not plan on having an especially lucrative career because I’m “pursuing” my “passion,” which is saying stupid shit online. But it’s incredibly bleak to think about how much staying power the archetype of Husband as Primary Breadwinner still has, and how much unnecessary pressure that expectation puts on couples. "The results are strong enough to point to the persistence of gender identity norms, and to their part in male mental health issues. Persistent distress can lead to many adverse health problems, including physical illness, and mental, emotional and social problems," Joanna Syrda, the study’s lead author, said in a statement about her research. Syrda also noted than men who married women who they knew would be occupying the breadwinner role in the relationship did not experience the same increase in stress—only the men who experienced a role reversal did.
Granted, this study tracked couples from 2001 until 2015, which was a different time by any metric. In that 15-year window, a recession happened; “metrosexual” came and went; Michael Jackson, Mr. Rogers, and Ronald Reagan all died; computers were invented (I think); Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram launched; and the idea that women are people and men experience emotions became a little more mainstream. Momentous stuff, both financially and for the paradigm of masculinity. The past few years, however, have also had some bombshells of their own—#MeToo and the election of Trump feel most relevant here—and it remains to be seen what these and other cultural changes (including, maybe, another recession) will have on straight couples over the next decade. Maybe something great will happen: The shackles of patriarchy could loosen on a societal scale, fostering solidarity between spouses, allowing them to turn their minds to better understanding each other, thereby deepening their loving bond. Then again, masculinity is a hell of a drug.
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