Want to keep your high-earning wife happy? Help out at home

Michael Shulman
(Valentine / Getty Images)

While the gender pay gap still persists, considerable progress has been made over the past few decades. According to Statistics Canada, women now earn $0.74 for every dollar made by men.

Women are also increasingly attaining executive positions and becoming the primary breadwinners in Canadian households.

But what does this mean for men who need to adapt to their changing role in a society that still suggests that husbands should hold higher status jobs than their wives?

According to a new study by researchers from Memorial and Queen’s Universities, men who take on more domestic responsibilities and provide care for children or older relatives can help keep their marriage stable.

The researchers theorized that women who see themselves as having a better job than their husband might worry about losing their higher status because of the career gap between them.

To explore this possibility, the researchers surveyed 209 women from executive leadership networks who were in heterosexual marriages or common-law relationships about their status relative to their significant other.

They also were able to speak to 53 of their husbands.

The results indicated that women who believed they had a better job than their husbands were more likely to experience feelings of resentfulness and embarrassment, as well as that their status suffered because of their significant other having a lower status position. In turn, these effects lowered their feelings of marital satisfaction and increased the likelihood of thoughts about divorce.

But, in relationships where women felt their husbands provided high levels of “instrumental support” around the house or with the care of children or elders, there was no link to marital stability.

Simply offering emotional support did not offer the same benefits.

“We suspect that providing this type of tangible support not only allows wives to focus on their careers, but also denotes respect,” the study’s authors, Alyson Bryne, a professor of business administration at Memorial University, and Julian Barling, a business professor at Queen’s University, wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

The study also looked to see if issues of marital instability lingered by contacting and eventually following-up with 90 of high-status wives after the initial survey.

Those findings indicated that it remained an issue with couples of differing status three years later.

“Our results suggest that receiving instrumental, tangible support from one’s husband buffers against the negative effects of wives’ status anxiety,” wrote the authors in the Harvard Business Review.

In addition to the support offered by their husbands, the authors said organizations need to play an important role in offering family-friendly policies and eliminating any stigma against workers, of any gender, who use them.

They also suggested that it is “critical” for career-driven couples to have an “open and honest conversation” about their ambitions and expectations for support.

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