Among U.S. couples, men still are expected to bring home the bacon

About 70% of Americans still believe that it is “very important” for a man to be the primary wage-earner, if he is to be a good husband or partner. However, as many U.S. couples will tell you, those assumptions are changing.

Indeed, today, while husbands still earn the “man’s share” of a couple’s communal income; wives are picking up a greater amount of the family’s expenses, according to results of a recent poll released on September 20 by the Pew Research Center.

While in 1980, 87% of men earned more than women; in 2017, that number has decreased to 69%. Conversely, although only 13% of wives earned more than their husbands in 1980, fully 31%—more than double the original amount—do so today.

Interestingly enough, men with lower incomes and less education are especially likely to place a greater emphasis on their role as financial providers. Roughly eight-in-ten adults ages 25 and older (81%) with no education beyond high school say that, for a man to be a good husband or partner, being able to support a family financially is very important. Among those with some college experience 72% say this, and the share is smaller still among those with a four-year college degree (62%).

The pattern is similar when it comes to women. Four-in-ten high school graduates say being able to financially support a family is very important, compared with 29% of those with some college and 25% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

There are cultural and age-related differences, as well: Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to place a high level of importance on being able to financially support a family: 84% of blacks say this is very important for a man, as do 78% of Hispanics. By comparison, 67% of whites say the same.

What’s more, the older the couple, the more pressure there is on the man to “bring home the bacon.” Baby Boomers—adults age 65 and above—are especially likely to say that the man should earn the larger paycheck. However, the different expectations for men and women persist across age groups. Among adults ages 18 to 29, for example, 64% say it is very important for men to be able provide for their family, while 34% say the same about women.

Finally, the researchers found, while women have traditionally been the “caretakers” of the family, now there is an expectation that men will contribute emotionally to a relationship and do their fair share of household chores. . Overwhelming majorities of survey respondents said it is very important for men (86%) and women (90%) to “be caring and compassionate” in their relationships. What’s more, 57% think men should do a significant amount around the house, while just slightly more respondents (63%) said women should shoulder those tasks.

The nationally representative survey of 4,971 adults was conducted Aug. 8-21, 2017, using Pew Research Center’s “American Trends Panel”—a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults recruited from landline and cell phone random digit dial surveys.

Research contact: info@pewresearch.org

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