Published: November 7, 2019


Since the end of the Second World War, men have been most households’ primary breadwinners in the developed world, and US data from the late 20th century suggested violation of this norm stressed marital partnerships. But does this still hold true?

A new Life Course Centre Working Paper using more recent US and Australian data finds a much more modest association between female breadwinning and healthy and stable partnerships, primarily for young people in cohabiting relationships and men in less educated partnerships. It concludes these results reflect changing social norms, and the greater ease that cohabiting women who out-earn their partners can now re-partner.

The Working Paper is co-authored by Gigi Foster, a Professor and Director of Education with the School of Economics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia and Leslie S. Stratton, a Professor of Economics at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US. The authors use data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey and US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. This data is more recent than that used in previous literature, and encompass both married and cohabiting partnerships.

The paper finds only weak evidence of a negative association between female breadwinning and partnership satisfaction and stability, with much of this concentrated in cohabiting partnerships that are generally less stable than marriages. It also finds evidence of a negative association between female breadwinning and men in less educated partnerships, consistent with gender role attitudes tending to be more conservative among less educated individuals. Overall, these results suggest that society is adapting over time to changes in the economic realities facing both men and women.

You can read the full Working Paper, ‘Does Female Breadwinning Make Partnerships Less Healthy or Less Stable?’ here.