Sociology Department's Assistant Professor Jarron Bowman's Research is Published Online at Social Science Research

By Penny Bogardus, October 7, 2022

Whose unemployment hurts more? Joblessness and subjective well-being in U.S. married couples.

Male Assistant Professor Headshot

Over the past century, women’s participation in the labor force and husbands’ stated support for their wives’ careers have improved dramatically. Unfortunately, however, my analysis of recent panel survey data suggests that traditional work-family gender roles remain stubbornly embedded in the psyches of both spouses in hetero married couples. When men become unemployed, life satisfaction decreases and psychological distress increases; not just for the unemployed husbands themselves, but also for their wives. Conversely, women’s unemployment has a smaller impact on their own well-being and does not significantly impact their husbands’ well-being at all. These findings are consistent with the notion that men’s unemployment is more harmful than women’s unemployment to the subjective well-being of both partners because it represents a deviation from the male breadwinning gender role.

But men still tend to earn more than women; couldn’t this explain the gender differences in the effects of unemployment on well-being? When I limited my analysis to married couples where wives earned more than their husbands, the results were partially the same. While men’s and women’s unemployment increased their own psychological distress roughly the same amount, only men’s life satisfaction was negatively impacted by their own unemployment. More surprisingly, when women earn more than their husbands, their husbands’ unemployment reduces their life satisfaction while their own unemployment has no effect. This means the fact that men’s unemployment “hurts” more is not just a result of their higher earning power—the male breadwinner model and its associated conditionings continue to shape men’s and women’s subjective, internal responses to unemployment.

Here is the link to the article: