Does a Husband Identify as Breadwinner or a Breadsharer? That Depends on His Respect For His Wife’s Career

August 17, 2018, 9:01 PM UTC

In a heterosexual marriage, does the husband identify as a breadwinner? That depends on how much he respects his wife’s career, according to an article in the journal Gender, Work and Organization.

Husbands who value and respect their wives’ careers are more likely to be “breadsharers,” a term coined by the study’s author, Dr. Erin Reid, an associate business professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. In her research, she surveyed and analyzed how 42 married men assessed their wives’ careers as compared to their own. And surprisingly, whether men self-identify as breadwinners has very little to do with how much money either partner makes, or how much they work.

Reid highlighted her finding in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review. In the story, she elaborates on her research that investigates how men in dual-income, dual-career marriages evaluated the prestige and social worth of their wives’ work. In turn, that impacted how those men elevated or diminished the financial value of their wives’ work. In other words, men in Reid’s research study thought not only about the financial contributions of their partners but also the social value and status of their work.

Moreover, “breadsharer” men who were secure in their own careers opted to stay more flexible in their own careers in order to better support their wives’ work and ambitions.

It’s not entirely clear how much this research means in pure dollars and cents. But we know that geography plays a big role in how well women succeed professionally. So does whether and when families decide to have children.

In another recent study, it was shown that a professional woman’s level of secondary education tracks with the age when she will have kids. It was noted that older moms tend to share more household and caregiving responsibilities with their male partners, which also points to the types of marriages where both careers and income levels are valued.

Reid notes that this research is an important contribution to a conversation in which men’s work is often inherently valued in both financial and social status, but far less research has been done to determine how men’s work lives are impacted and shaped by their family life, including their spouses’ career.

In an email to Fortune, she explained, “I think we often assume and are quite comfortable talking about how women’s careers are shaped by their partners’ but we tend to ignore how this plays out for men.”

And while her findings did not necessarily track with specific careers, there were some interesting findings related to occupation. “No husband with a wife who was a doctor or lawyer minimized her career or discounted her earnings, no matter how much or little she worked or earned,” Reid noted in the HBR.

What Reid stops short of saying may be obvious. But in order to break bread with your spouse, it might be easier if you share it first.

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