Men who earn less than their wives are about 10% more likely to take medication for erectile dysfunction (ED) than male breadwinners in the same age group, according to a study published last month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
This finding held even after accounting for health factors, the researchers reported.
The researchers used two data sets from 1997 to 2006 to gather information on over 200,000 married couples in Denmark between the ages of 25 and 49. The first, the Integrated Database for Labor Market Research, provided annual demographic information. The second, the Danish Register of Medicinal Product Statistics, gave information on medical prescriptions.
It seems that a shift in income during the marriage played a key role in the results. “Men appear to suffer increased ED at precisely the point where wives start outearning them,” the authors wrote. In the study, the increase in ED medication prescriptions occurred even if the earnings difference was small. The increase grew as the income gap widened.
Men who married higher-earning women – and who were aware of the woman’s income going into the marriage – were not affected. Unmarried men who lived with breadwinning partners were also unaffected.
In addition, women with higher incomes than their husbands were more likely to take insomnia and anxiety medications. Husbands who earned less than their wives tended to take these medications more often than breadwinning men.
While the data suggest a link between marital income inequality and ED, it does not prove cause and effect.
In the United States, the percentage of women who outearn their husbands has risen from 4% to 22% over the past two decades. The situation is similar in other countries, the researchers say.
The authors expected the issue of ED and income inequality to be more prominent “in countries with stronger patriarchal norms.” Denmark is considered a progressive country in terms of women’s issues. “We can only imagine how much more severe these problems may be in countries where social norms of male breadwinners are uniform and primary to the family social construct,” they wrote.
The authors explained that they did not consider female breadwinners as “socially harmful.” They also noted that not all husbands will have the same response if their wives outearn them.
The researchers acknowledged that sexual problems could have many causes and that their “findings do not discount the importance of any of them.”
HealthDay via Everyday Health
“If Wife Earns More, Husband's Sexual Performance May Suffer”
(February 11, 2013)
“The Physical Cost of Earning Less than Your Wife”
(February 5, 2013)
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Pierce, Lamar, et al.
“In Sickness and in Wealth – Psychological and Sexual Costs of Income Comparison in Marriage”
(Full-text. Published online before print: February 3, 2013)
Washington University in St. Louis
“Income inequality and erectile dysfunction”
(News release. February 8, 2013)