Breadwinning, Main-Earning and Subjective Wellbeing

Melisa Sayli , University of York
Agnese Vitali, University of Trento

Previous literature has found a negative association between the woman's contribution to the couples' total income and subjective wellbeing, for both women and men. Despite female-breadwinner couples tend to be poorer than other couple types, the mediating effect of absolute incomes on subjective wellbeing has not been tested. We aim to fill this gap using longitudinal data from the UK: Understanding Society 2009-2016. We study the effect of couples’ earning arrangements on individual wellbeing, and whether there are gender differences within and across earning arrangements. We also examine how subjective wellbeing of women and men in dual-earner couples change after transitioning to a single-earner couple. Our findings suggest that gender differences within earning arrangements are mostly due to permanent unobserved couple characteristics. Women in male breadwinner (MBW) and female breadwinner (FBW) households are less satisfied with their lives than women in dual-earner households. We find that income mediates the relationship between breadwinning and wellbeing: while men are generally less satisfied with their lives in FBW households compared to men in other earning arrangements, men in FBW at the top of the couples’ income distribution are as satisfied with their lives as men in other couples. Our results show that woman are less satisfied with their lives when they become a single-earner couple, regardless of which partner becomes non-employed. For men, we do not find any spillover effect of their partner’s non-employment on wellbeing, but men are significantly more satisfied when they become sole-earners (MBW) compared to becoming non-employed (FBW).

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 Presented in Session 98. Gender and Family Finance