In Sickness and in Wealth: Psychological and Sexual Costs of Income Comparison in Marriage

46 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2012

See all articles by Lamar Pierce

Lamar Pierce

Washington University, Saint Louis - John M. Olin School of Business

Michael S. Dahl

Aarhus University - School of Business and Social Sciences

Jimmi Nielsen

Aarhus University - Aarhus University Hospital

Date Written: November 15, 2012

Abstract

As the percentage of wives outearning their husbands grows, the traditional social norm of the male breadwinner is challenged. The upward income comparison of the husband may cause psychological distress that affects both partners’ mental and physical health in ways that impact decisions on marriage, divorce, and careers. This paper studies this impact through sexual and mental health problems. Using wage and prescription medication data from Denmark, we implement a regression discontinuity design to show that men outearned by their wives are more likely to use erectile dysfunction (ED) medication than their male breadwinner counterparts, even when this inequality is small. Breadwinner wives suffer increased insomnia/anxiety medication usage, with similar effects for men. We find no effects for unmarried couples or for men who earned less than their fiancée prior to marriage. Our results suggest that social norms play important roles in dictating how individuals respond to upward social comparisons.

Keywords: Social comparison, marriage, intimacy, happiness, family, gender roles, sexual identity, sexuality, emotion in relationships, family, romantic relationships, regression discontinuity

Suggested Citation

Pierce, Lamar and Dahl, Michael Slavensky and Nielsen, Jimmi, In Sickness and in Wealth: Psychological and Sexual Costs of Income Comparison in Marriage (November 15, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2185944 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2185944

Lamar Pierce (Contact Author)

Washington University, Saint Louis - John M. Olin School of Business ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States
314-935-5205 (Phone)

Michael Slavensky Dahl

Aarhus University - School of Business and Social Sciences ( email )

Department of Management
Bartholins Allé 10
Aarhus C, 8000
Denmark

Jimmi Nielsen

Aarhus University - Aarhus University Hospital ( email )

Denmark

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