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Men are secretly unhappy when their wives get a pay rise, finds new study

Lauren Clark
·3-min read
Research has found men feel a thrill when their own pay rise widens the gap between them and their lower-paid female other half. (Getty Images)
Research has found men feel a thrill when their own pay rise widens the gap between them and their lower-paid female other half. (Getty Images)

While reports indicate that the pandemic is reversing progress in equality between men and women, the gender pay gap has been slowly closing in recent decades.

However, a new study suggests that men aren’t particularly thrilled about the idea of their wives’ earning power being increasingly on par with their own.

Research by City, University of London found that husbands feel secretly unhappy when their female other halves get a pay rise – because it narrows the pay gap between them and their lower-paid partners.

In contrast, they subconsciously get a “psychological kick” when their own salary boost widens the gap.

Watch: Viral TikTok explains why the gender pay gap isn't the same for women of colour

Read more: We still view 'brilliance' or 'genius' as a male trait - and it's hurting women

Women don’t experience the same drop in happiness when they are the higher-earning half of the couple, and their lower-paid male partner gets a financial leg-up.

Data analysed by the study showed that men who earned less than their wives had life dissatisfaction rates of 18%, compared to 11% in husbands who earned more or equal to their wives.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, sociologist and study co-author, Vanessa Gash, suggests the male breadwinner stereotype – thanks to them traditionally having salary superiority within a marriage – may remain “bigger than we give credit for”.

Gash explains that the research indicates “men appear to need to be the bigger earners in a marriage to feel good about themselves” adding that there is “no equivalent feeling for women, so it’s a male-specific phenomenon”.

Read more: Five-year-old children are 'sexist' but it wears off as they grow up, study finds

Data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study between 2009 and 2017 was used to look at how changes in the gender pay gap may have impacted mental wellbeing.

According to the Office For National Statistics, the gender pay gap fell from 7.8% in 2018 to 17.3% in 2019.

This year, Equal Pay Day – the day in the year when women effectively stop earning until the following year – was November 20th, compared to November 14th in 2019.

It comes as 50 years of improvements in gender equality are feared to have been wiped within months by the coronavirus.

While unemployment has affected both genders, women – who tend to be employed in travel, retail and hospitality – have been losing their work at faster rates than men.

Mums have been particularly affected, and are – according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the UCL Institute of Education – up to 47% more likely to have lost their job or quit as a result of lockdown.

Research has found that many women – often because they earn less – are the partner who has been forced to reduce their hours, or put their career on hold entirely, to pick up extra childcare and household responsibilities in recent months.

Watch: How to negotiate a pay rise