Masculinity Ideology, Income Disparity, and Romantic Relationship Quality Among Men with Higher Earning Female Partners
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This research assessed factors that may affect men’s heterosexual romantic relationships in which their partner earns a greater income. Forty-seven men from the United States completed measures that assessed masculinity ideology, the importance of the partner’s greater income, and romantic relationship quality. We examined whether the perceived importance of the income disparity mediated the relationship between men’s masculinity ideology and the quality of their romantic relationships. Using multiple regression analyses to test for mediation, results showed the relationship between masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality was due in part to the importance one placed on the difference in income. Specifically, men who were more traditional in their masculinity ideology and have higher earning female partners were more likely to have poor quality romantic relationships in part because such men view the disparity in income as having importance. Conversely, results showed men who were more nontraditional in their masculinity were more likely to perceive the disparity in income as having little or no importance and have high romantic relationship quality.
KeywordsMasculinity Relationship satisfaction Romantic relationship Marital quality Breadwinner role
The purpose of the current study was to investigate relationship quality within heterosexual romantic relationships with a particular focus on men in the United States where the man is not in the traditional role of “breadwinner.” Thus, all empirical studies reviewed in this article are based on U.S. samples unless otherwise noted. The breadwinner role for men is consistent with institutionalized rules for gendered marital behavior (Blumstein and Schwartz 1985) and allows for and supports the husband’s power and authority in the marriage or family (Tichenor 2005). Considering this, it is entirely reasonable for a man who earns less than his spouse to feel removed from his traditional gender role and feel a void because he does not fulfill this role. This is supported by the finding that “breadwinning” is attributed to masculinity (Brannon 1976; Maurer and Pleck 2006), and that men’s psychological well-being decreases when wives are contributing larger proportions of the total family income (about 40 % to 50 %) (Rogers and DeBoer 2001). In the U.S., marriages in which both the husband and the wife pursue separate careers are becoming more of the rule rather than the exception (Fouad and Tinsley 1997), and increasingly it is just as possible for both partners to earn equal amounts as it is for the female to earn more than the male (see Cohn and Fry 2010). In 2009, nearly 28.9 % of wives earned more than their husbands in households where both spouses worked compared to 17.8 % in 1987; and among all married couples, where the wife had earnings and not necessarily the husband, 37.7 % of women were making more than their husbands (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2011). Given these changes in the breadwinner role, it would be imperative to better understand this actuality and its influence on the experience of marriage and romantic relationships.
The present study sought to answer the question of whether or not men will experience lower quality romantic relationships when they do not fulfill the role of breadwinner, and whether masculinity ideology has an effect on how men perceive the income disparity and thereby the quality of their romantic relationships. We used descriptive research to explore the relationships between masculinity ideology, perceived importance of the income disparity, and romantic relationship quality in a sample of men in the United States. Our study is based in the Gender Role Strain Paradigm as an overarching theoretical framework (Pleck 1981, 1995), and theory and research on traditional masculinity ideology more specifically. The current study adds to our existing knowledge on the association between men’s masculinity ideology and relationship quality, building on other studies that have examined how gender-related issues affect romantic relationships (e.g., Donaghue and Fallon 2003; Rudman and Phelan 2007; Siavelis and Lamke 1992; Sprecher and Felmlee 1997; Wade and Donis 2007). Additionally, the study has import for other “rich-world” countries (e.g., Denmark, Germany, Japan, Britain) where there has been a rise in the economic empowerment of women (“Female power” 2009). Given that quality romantic relationships contribute to psychological well-being (Cohen and Willis 1985; Diener et al. 1999; Rook and Pietromonaco 1987) and physical health and longevity (Schuster et al. 1990; Taylor 1995; Willis 1985), it would be important to understand those factors that either contribute to or hinder quality romantic relationships for men.
The construct of “relationship quality” for romantic relationships stems from the “marital quality” construct of Lewis and Spanier (1979), which they defined as, “the subjective evaluation of a married couple’s relationship on a number of dimensions and evaluations” (Spanier and Lewis 1980, p. 826). High marital quality is “associated with good adjustment, adequate communication, a high level of marital happiness, integration, and a high degree of satisfaction with the relationship” (Lewis and Spanier 1979, p. 269).
Income Disparity, Gender Roles, and Marital Relationship Quality
There is some research that has examined the importance of income disparity in dual- income marriages. In the historically unconventional relationship in which men are not the breadwinners, spouses may work together to redefine what it means to be a provider (Tichenor 2005). Tichenor (2005) conducted qualitative interviews with 30 couples from the Eastern United States (80 % European American). She found that unconventional earners were uncomfortable with using money as the sole criterion for both relationship identity and relationship power and expanded the characteristics of both identity and power to non-monetary aspects of a relationship, including the emotional and physical needs of family members. Even in relationships in which the man did not fulfill his traditional role, he still did not recognize his wife as being the family’s main provider and fulfilling such a role. The relationship between money and decision-making power was only present for husbands, as women were more likely to view themselves as part of a team. The conclusions drawn from Tichenor’s study suggest that spouses support the traditional expectations of the male provider role in order to ensure harmony in the marriage and the presence of a conventional husband-wife identity, even in a relationship that, at least financially, is unconventional. Tichenor’s findings of male power and authority in the relationship despite unconventional financial disparity suggest the possibility that a smaller income may not unequivocally determine traditional male identity in the breadwinning role.
In contrast to Tichenor’s (2005) findings, Lowell (1996) found in her study of 62 couples in the U.S. that the spouse who earned the lower income, regardless of whether the higher-earner was the husband or the wife, felt that their higher-income partner used the income to control decision-making. More specifically, husbands who earned less than their wives felt more controlled in the relationship and more restricted due to the financial disparity. Furthermore, conventional men reported greater power when they earned more. Thus, men in financially-unconventional marriages may experience gender role strain as a result of the income disparity, while men in financially-conventional marriages may not experience such role strain. These findings are pertinent to the present study when considering the hypothesis that the role strain men feel as a result of the income disparity may lead to less marital satisfaction and poorer quality romantic relationships. However, it is plausible that if being the breadwinner is not a part of a man’s gender role self-concept or self-definitions of masculinity, he would not experience gender role strain when his partner has the higher income.
Brennan and his colleagues (2001) examined income disparity and marital quality in a sample of 300 dual-earner couples (97 % European American). They collected data over a two year span and examined the change in salary gap in the couples. The researchers hypothesized that the relationship between the change in income disparity and marital quality would be moderated by gender ideology and by a “salary affect.” Salary affect was operationalized as the degree to which the person feels subjectively rewarded by the salary associated with their job. An increase in marital quality was found only in husbands in which the husband’s salary increased relative to the wife and he “prized” his greater income (i.e., the salary affect). Among men who did not prize their earnings the widening salary was not as important. Their results showed no moderation effect for gender ideology. However, Brennan et al. concluded that the strength of men’s identification with the breadwinner role has powerful effects on their marital quality under conditions of increasing disparity between their earnings and those of their wives. Further, they argued that men who are living nontraditional lives (i.e., men earning less than their partner) but have gender-related attitudes that are traditional are particularly vulnerable to low marital quality if their wives income increases relative to their own. Considering this, it was pertinent for the present study to examine this dichotomy of traditional men with non-traditional marriages to further determine what constitutes this vulnerability. More specifically, our study provides for an examination of how such men may perceive the income disparity based on their masculinity ideology, and whether the importance men place on the disparity in income thereby affects the quality of their romantic relationships. No study to date has examined the associations between men’s masculinity ideology, perception of income disparity, and relationship quality in heterosexual romantic relationships where the female partner has the higher income.
The limited research that has investigated marital quality and satisfaction in dual-income couples suggests a link between enacting the traditional male gender role of breadwinner and men’s marital quality and satisfaction. One area of investigation that has contributed to our understanding of this association is research on the effect of masculinity ideology on romantic relationship quality and satisfaction.
Masculinity ideology refers to men’s acceptance or internalization of a culture’s definition of masculinity, and beliefs about adherence to culturally defined standards of male behavior (Pleck et al. 1993). Thus, masculinity ideology concerns the beliefs and attitudes one holds about male’s gender-typed behavior and is distinct from men’s performance of masculinity or its enactments. It informs expectations for boys and men to conform to certain socially sanctioned gender-typed behavior and to avoid certain proscribed behaviors (Levant and Richmond 2007). Although there may be many masculinity ideologies, the masculinity ideology that has been examined most within the literature has been referred to as “traditional,” which has been described by several researchers (e.g., David and Brannon 1976; Franklin 1984; Harris 1995; Levant et al. 1992; O’Neil 1981). Conceptual formulations of traditional masculinity ideology in contemporary U.S. American culture have focused on those standards and expectations that have various negative consequences (Pleck 1995). Such standards and expectations include anti-femininity, homophobia, emotional restrictiveness, competitiveness, toughness, and aggressiveness.
Research on men that has examined traditional masculinity and heterosexual romantic relationships indicates traditional masculinity negatively affects relationship quality (e.g., Pleck et al. 1993; Sinn 1997; Truman et al. 1996). Relationship quality has been variously explored in these studies in terms of intimacy in heterosexual relationships (Pleck et al. 1993), adversarial views of sexual relationships (Sinn 1997), and sexual coercive attitudes and behaviors in dating situations (Truman et al. 1996). To date, this area of research has only been conducted with U.S. samples. Burn and Ward (2005) assessed how traditional masculinity affects relationship satisfaction for both men and women in a sample of college students (79 % European American). The researchers assessed general relationship satisfaction, such as how well the partner meets one’s needs, how well the relationship compares with others, regrets about the relationship, how well one’s expectations have been met, love for the partner, and problems in the relationship. Conformity to traditional masculine norms related negatively to relationship satisfaction for both women and men. Specifically, women who perceived that their male partners conformed more to traditional masculinity norms were less satisfied with their relationship, and men who were more conforming to traditional male norms were also less satisfied with their relationship. Similarly, in a study of adult heterosexual couples the more men endorsed traditional masculinity norms, the more both men and women reported lower relationship satisfaction, in terms of satisfaction with the marriage, one’s spouse, and one’s relationship with their spouse (Mcgraw 2001). Traditional masculinity was also found to be associated with lower quality romantic relationships for both gay and heterosexual men (Wade and Donis 2007). Relationship quality concerned whether the relationship had such characteristics as trust, genuineness, empathy, comfort with one another, expressions of affection, communication, agreement on important matters, doing things together, and general satisfaction with the relationship.
Studies examining nontraditional masculinity have used the Nontraditional Attitudes About Masculinity subscale of the Male Role Norms Inventory (MRNI; Levant et al. 1992) and have included ethnically diverse samples of men in the United States. Results from these studies showed nontraditional masculinity related to fighting against racism and more openness to diversity in Asian American men (Liu 2002), health behaviors conducive to personal wellness in African American men (Wade 2008), and positive attitudes about racial diversity and women's equality in a sample of predominantly European American college men (Wade and Brittan-Powell 2001). In one study, nontraditional masculinity was a positive predictor of relationship satisfaction in heterosexual men, defined as feelings of positive and global contentment with the relationship (Wade and Donis 2007).
Thus, research on the psychology of men has demonstrated a relationship between masculinity ideology and relationship quality and satisfaction. This research has not focused on marital relationships but informs us on how men’s masculinity ideology may affect the quality of their romantic relationships. Research on dual-earning couples and income disparity has demonstrated how men’s enactment of the breadwinner role can affect marital quality, in particular the importance placed on the role and the disparity in income. The current study extends previous research by combining these two areas of research investigation to uncover the associations between men’s masculinity ideology, perceived importance of income disparity, and romantic relationship quality.
The Current Study
Given the rise in dual-earning couples and women’s potential to be the higher earning partner in a romantic relationship, the current study examined the extent to which masculinity ideology and income disparity affect men’s romantic relationship quality in relationships in which the female partner has the higher income. We included in our sample married and non-married men who were involved in a romantic relationship at the time of the study. A previous study on dating, cohabiting, and married couples in Australia demonstrated that for both males and females, those in relationships of longer duration and married couples experienced higher levels of intimacy and relationship satisfaction than other couples (Moore et al. 2001). Consequently, though not the focus of our study, we first examined whether there were differences in relationship quality in married versus non-married men and with regard to relationship duration.
Research has identified a relationship between masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality. Additionally, research supports a relationship between men’s enactment of the breadwinner role and marital satisfaction. Given the breadwinner role is an aspect of traditional male role norms (Brannon 1976; Maurer and Pleck 2006), we hypothesized that masculinity ideology would relate to the importance a man places on the fact that he is not the breadwinner in the relationship. It is plausible that men who are traditional in their masculinity would view the income disparity as more important than men who do not endorse traditional masculinity norms. Thus, our research questions concerned the mediating function of the importance of income disparity in the relationship between masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality. As a mediator we theorized that the importance of income disparity may in part explain why masculinity ideology affects men’s relationship quality. Conceptually, the importance one gives to the disparity in incomes is a result of one’s masculinity ideology, and romantic relationship quality is a consequence of one’s masculinity ideology and the income disparity. That is, among men who earn less than their partners, masculinity ideology influences relationship quality in part because masculinity ideology leads men to ascribe a degree of importance to the income difference, which in turn influences relationship quality. Thus, the mediation model is one in which masculinity has both a direct effect on relationship quality and an indirect effect through its relationship to the importance a man gives the disparity in income. Given we expected both direct and indirect effects on the outcome, we tested a partial mediation model in which: 1) masculinity ideology is correlated with relationship quality (direct effect); 2) masculinity ideology is correlated with the perceived importance of the income disparity (the mediator); 3) masculinity ideology predicts relationship quality while controlling for the effect of the perceived importance of the income disparity (indirect effect); 4) partial mediation is indicated when the direct effect of masculinity ideology on relationship quality is reduced when controlling for the effect of the mediator (perceived importance of the income disparity).
Masculinity ideology would be related to romantic relationship quality. Specifically, traditional masculinity would relate negatively whereas nontraditional masculinity would relate positively to romantic relationship quality.
Masculinity ideology would be related to the perceived importance of the income disparity in one’s romantic relationship. Specifically, traditional masculinity would relate positively whereas nontraditional masculinity would relate negatively to the perceived importance of the income disparity in one’s romantic relationship.
The perceived importance of the income disparity would be related to romantic relationship quality. Specifically, the importance of the income disparity would relate negatively to romantic relationship quality.
Perceived importance of income disparity would partially mediate the negative relationship between traditional masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality.
Perceived importance of income disparity would partially mediate the positive relationship between nontraditional masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality.
Participant demographic characteristics
18 (75 %)
16 (69.6 %)
3 (12.5 %)
3 (13 %)
3 (12.5 %)
2 (8.7 %)
Ethnicity Not Reported
2 (8.7 %)
Less Than High School
1 (4.2 %)
High School or GED
8 (33.3 %)
2 (8.7 %)
4 (16.7 %)
7 (30.4 %)
2-year College degree
2 (8.3 %)
1 (4.3 %)
4-year College degree
6 (25 %)
5 (21.7 %)
1 (4.2 %)
1 (4.3 %)
1 (4.2 %)
2 (8.7 %)
1 (4.2 %)
5 (21.7 %)
11 (45.8 %)
6 (26.1 %)
5 (20.8 %)
6 (26.1 %)
3 (12.5 %)
1 (4.2 %)
2 (8.7 %)
1 (4.2 %)
6 (26.1 %)
3 (12.5 %)
3 (13 %)
Masculine Gender Role Dogmatism Inventory (MGDI)
According to McDermott and Joshi (2008), the MGDI was developed to assess the extent to which individuals endorse the rigid norms of traditional masculinity, which they termed “gender role dogmatism.” In the development of the scale they hypothesized that the MGDI would produce four-factors based on the four broad constellations of dogmatic beliefs pertaining to traditional masculinity identified in the scale construction process: 1) emotional control; 2) success, winning, and competition; 3) dominance, violence, power, and prowess; and 4) anti-femininity and homophobia. The researchers developed the scale using two samples of college men in the U.S. Results from the factor analysis suggested that the best fit to the data was a two-factor solution, where all of the reverse scored items loaded on their own factor. The researchers concluded that one factor was tapping men’s tendency to respond in dogmatic, affirming ways for traditional masculine role norms and the other factor that was originally reversed scored tapped more flexible approaches to these beliefs. The MGDI contains 28 items that are responded to on a 6-point Likert-type scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 6 = strongly agree. The two factors comprise the two subscales of the MGDI. The Masculine Gender Role Dogmatism (MGD) subscale consists of 14 items that measure the dogmatic way in which some men internalize traditional masculine norms in the areas mentioned above. Sample items include: “A real man does not accept failures” and “A man wears the pants in his family.” In the current study the MGD subscale was used to assess traditional masculinity ideology. The Masculine Gender Role Flexibility (MGF) subscale also consists of 14 items but measures flexibility with regard to traditional masculinity norms. (However, only 13 of the items were used in the current study. The item “Men should be comfortable showing their sadness” was omitted by error.) Example items include: “It is acceptable for men to discuss personal problems with one another” and “It is acceptable for men to hug each other when saying goodbye.” McDermott and Joshi (personal communication, April 9, 2012) surmise that traditional messages about men’s roles are inherently rigid sounding (e.g., “boys don’t cry” [dogmatic] compared to “real men can be emotional” [flexible]). In the current study we therefore used the MGF subscale as a measure of nontraditional masculinity ideology. Responses to items are totaled with higher scores on either the MGD or MGF indicating higher MGD and higher MGF, respectively. McDermott and Joshi found the MGD subscale positively correlated with the Gender Role Conflict Scale (O’Neil et al. 1986), a measure of conflict associated with adherence to traditional masculinity norms, whereas the MGF subscale negatively correlated with gender role conflict and positively correlated with self-esteem. McDermott and Joshi reported an internal consistency reliability of .92 for the MGD subscale and .89 for the MGF subscale. Internal consistency reliability in the current study was .96 for the MGD subscale and .96 for the MGF subscale.
Modified Interpersonal Relationship Scale (MIRS)
The MIRS (Garthoeffner et al. 1993) is a 49-item scale that measures the overall quality of one’s romantic relationship and is a revision of the Interpersonal Relationship Scale developed by Schlein et al. (1990). In the development of the scale, relationship quality was conceptualized as encompassing elements such as “acceptance, respect and admiration, understanding, friendship and companionship, ease in communication, sharing, caring and concern, wanting to please, striving for mutual goals, interdependence, pride, trust, belonging together, similarity of thought, indebtedness, gladness and peace, expansion, reciprocity, and sexual relations” (as cited in Garthoeffner et al. 1993). Using a sample of undergraduate students at a southwestern university in the U.S., Garthoeffner et al. (1993) revised the scale by conducting a factor analysis and examining the reliability and validity of the overall scale and subscales. The MIRS is comprised of six subscales the researchers conceptualized as representing dimensions of intimacy: Trust, Self-Disclosure, Genuineness, Empathy, Comfort, and Communication. Example items include: “I can express deep, strong feelings to my partner” (Self-Disclosure), “I feel relaxed when we are together” (Comfort), and “My partner can be relied on to keep her promises” (Trust). The items are responded to on a 5-point Likert-type scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree. Only the full scale was used for the analyses in the current study. Responses to items are totaled with higher scores indicating higher relationship quality. The wording of the scale instructions was changed slightly to only focus on the romantic relationship that each participant was currently involved in. We omitted from the original instructions “think about a close relationship you had in your past” when responding to the items. Garthoeffner et al. (1993) found support for concurrent validity of the MIRS based on Pearson correlations with two other measures, the Conflict Resolution subscale from the Premarital Personal and Relationship Evaluation Inventory and a modified version of the State-anxiety Scale from the STAI that elicited responses concerning anxiety in relation to commitment in long-term relationships. Garthoeffner et al. reported an internal consistency reliability alpha of .95. Internal consistency reliability in the current study was .98.
Income disparity was assessed by first asking participants “Do you make more money than your partner?” which was responded to with either “Yes” or “No.” Participants who responded “No” were included in the study, which was 52 % of the sample. Next, participants were asked “How would you characterize the difference in income?” Responses included “a little bit,” “a moderate amount,” “a substantial amount,” and “a tremendous amount.” (Although this item was not used in the current study, all participants responded to this item.) Next, participants responded to the question “How significant to you is the difference in income?” The responses to this item were collected using a 4-point scale where 1 = not significant, 2 = a little significant, 3 = significant, and 4 = very significant. Higher scores represent the greater importance of the income disparity as perceived by the individual.
The demographic information that was collected included the following: age, race/ethnicity, relationship status, years in current relationship, highest completed level of education, and employment status.
Participants for this study were recruited via LISTSERV for a church in the suburbs of New York, the LISTSERV for Division 51 of the American Psychological Association, and the website Craiglist.org, who volunteered and were offered the opportunity to participate in a lottery as a means of compensation for their participation. Posts on these sites asked for men who would be interested in participating in a research study on romantic relationships and were qualified to participate if they were currently involved in a heterosexual romantic relationship. Potential participants were directed to the online survey supported by the survey-builder website SurveyMonkey.com. All administrations of this survey were conducted via SurveyMonkey.com and responses were collected through this website. Recruitment was conducted for 2 months in 2011. All participants were asked to read and agree to an informed consent page at the beginning of all administrations that explained the nature of the study, confidentiality of the responses, and their rights as participants in the study. The online survey included the informed consent page, then the measures followed by questions pertaining income disparity and the demographic information page. After completion of the study, participants were provided contact information to participate in a voluntary lottery for a chance to win three prizes ranging from $25 to $100.
Scale means and standard deviations
On average, both married and non-married participants reported having high romantic relationship quality. They tended to endorse nontraditional masculinity more than traditional masculinity ideology. Responses to the item that asked “How would you characterize the difference in income?” were as follows: a little bit 14.9 %, a moderate amount 34 %, a substantial amount 42.6 %, a tremendous amount 8.5 %. Responses to the significance of income disparity item were as follows: not significant 51 %, a little significant 8.5 %, significant 25.5 %, very significant 15 %.
Correlation Analyses: Direct Effects
2. MGDI Dogmatism
3. MGDI Flexibility
4. Income Disparity
10. Marital Status
Hypothesis 1 stated: Masculinity ideology would be related to romantic relationship quality. Specifically, traditional masculinity would relate negatively whereas nontraditional masculinity would relate positively to romantic relationship quality. Traditional masculinity ideology, as measured by the Masculine Gender Role Dogmatism subscale, significantly negatively correlated with romantic relationship quality (MIRS), r(45) = -.51, p < .01. Nontraditional masculinity ideology, as measured by the Masculine Gender Role Flexibility subscale, significantly positively correlated with romantic relationship quality (MIRS), r(45) = .59, p < .01. These results provide support for Hypothesis 1.
Hypothesis 2 stated: Masculinity ideology would be related to the perceived importance of the income disparity in one’s romantic relationship. Specifically, traditional masculinity would relate positively whereas nontraditional masculinity would relate negatively to the perceived importance of the income disparity in one’s romantic relationship. Traditional masculinity ideology significantly positively correlated with income disparity, r(45) = .34, p < .05, whereas nontraditional masculinity ideology significantly negatively correlated with income disparity, r(45) = −.30, p < .05. Thus, Hypothesis 2 was supported.
Hypothesis 3 stated: The perceived importance of the income disparity would be related to romantic relationship quality. Specifically, the importance of the income disparity would relate negatively to romantic relationship quality. Income disparity significantly negatively correlated with romantic relationship quality, r(45) = −.65, p < .01. Thus, Hypothesis 3 was supported.
These findings indicate the stronger one’s endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology, the more one experienced low romantic relationship quality, and the more one perceived the disparity in incomes as important. Conversely, the more one endorsed nontraditional masculinity ideology, the more one experienced high romantic relationship quality, and the more one perceived the disparity in incomes as not important. The significant correlations between masculinity ideology, income disparity, and relationship quality provided the conditions for the tests of mediation.
Tests of Mediation: Indirect Effects
We hypothesized that masculinity ideology affects romantic relationship quality directly, but also because of the significance one gives the income disparity which is a consequence of one’s masculinity ideology. As outlined by Baron and Kenny (1986), this partial mediation hypothesis was tested using three regression equations. Baron and Kenny have discussed four steps in establishing mediation. Step 1 involves establishing that there is an effect that may be mediated. In this regression equation relationship quality would be the outcome variable and masculinity ideology (traditional, nontraditional) the predictor. A significant beta establishes that there is an effect that may be mediated. Step 2 involves showing that the initial variable is correlated with the mediator. In this regression equation masculinity ideology would be the initial variable and income disparity the mediator. Thus, income disparity is treated as the outcome variable in the regression equation and masculinity ideology the predictor. A significant beta establishes that there is a relationship between the initial variable and the mediator. Step 3 involves showing that the mediator affects the outcome variable. In this regression equation, relationship quality would be the outcome variable and the initial variable (masculinity ideology) and mediator (income disparity) would be predictors. Given that the mediator and the outcome may be correlated because they are both caused by the initial variable, the initial variable must be controlled in establishing the effect of the mediator on the outcome. Step 4 involves examining the effect of the initial variable on the outcome variable when controlling for the effect of the mediator. In partial mediation, the initial variable exerts some influence on the outcome when the mediating variable is controlled, but the influence is reduced. Thus, in the third regression equation the beta for masculinity ideology would remain significant but would be lesser than the beta in the first regression equation (Step 1).
For models in which mediation was supported we tested for the significance of the mediated effect using the bootstrapping approach recommended by Preacher and Hayes’s (2004). Bootstrapping is accomplished by taking a large number of samples of size n (where n is the original sample size) from the data, sampling with replacement, and computing the mediated effect in each sample. We used the recommended method of 5,000 bootstrapped samples to estimate the bias corrected and accelerated confidence intervals. Results from this approach provide a standard error and 95 % confidence interval for the size of the mediated effect. If the confidence interval does not overlap zero, the mediated effect is said to be statistically significant.
Regression results for test of income disparity as a partial mediator in the relationship between traditional masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality
1) Outcome: Relationship Quality
2) Outcome: Income Disparity
3) Outcome: Relationship Quality
Regression results for test of income disparity as a partial mediator in the relationship between nontraditional masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality
1) Outcome: Relationship Quality
2) Outcome: Income Disparity
3) Outcome: Relationship Quality
The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of masculinity ideology and perceived importance of income disparity on men’s heterosexual romantic relationships. In particular, we expected the importance one places on the disparity in income to partially mediate the relationship between masculinity ideology and relationship quality. The specific focus was on romantic relationships in which men earned less than their partner. As measured in this study, relationship quality involved characteristics that are colloquially considered to be vital to successful, fulfilling romantic relationships such as trust, genuineness, empathy, affection, communication, mutual comfort, communication, ability to agree on important matters, and enjoy each other’s company. Our findings show the perceived importance of income disparity was a partial mediator in the relationship between masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality.
In this study, traditional masculinity ideology related to perceiving the disparity in income as important and to lower romantic relationship quality. The findings are consistent with previous research on the relationship between income difference in married couples and romantic relationship quality (Brennan et al. 2001; Grable et al. 2007; Harrell 1990; Lowell 1996) and the research on the interplay between traditional masculinity and the quality of men’s romantic relationships (e.g., Pleck et al. 1993; Sinn 1997; Truman et al. 1996; Wade and Donis 2007). However, the current study adds to our understanding of what may be influencing these associations. Men who are more traditional in their masculinity ideology and have higher earning female partners are more likely to have poor quality romantic relationships in part because such men view the disparity in incomes as having importance.
The research provided support for a complementary hypothesis as well. Specifically, nontraditional masculinity ideology related to perceiving the disparity in incomes as having little or no importance and to higher romantic relationship quality. The relationship between nontraditional masculinity ideology and romantic relationship quality in the current study is consistent with the findings of Wade and Donis (2007) in their sample of heterosexual and gay men. Our research shows that in heterosexual couples where the female partner has a higher income, nontraditional masculinity may contribute to a man experiencing high relationship quality in part because he gives little importance to the difference in income. Having a nontraditional masculinity ideology may allow for one to not use the role of breadwinner as a way of defining one’s manhood.
The results of this research demonstrate the importance of masculinity ideology in understanding how and why men with higher-earning partners will have low or high quality romantic relationships. The findings are relevant to men who are married as well as non-married men in a romantic relationship. Research on traditional masculinity ideology shows its relationship to negative psychosocial outcomes (see Levant and Richmond 2007). This is mostly due to the way traditional masculinity has been conceptualized and therefore operationalized in the measures used. The measure of traditional masculinity used in this research concerned “the dogmatic way in which some men internalize masculine norms” (McDermott and Joshi 2008, p. 3) associated with traditional masculinity, such as emotional control; success, winning and competition; dominance, violence, power, and prowess; and anti-femininity and homophobia. These aspects are masculine norms that are considered negative. However, there are masculine norms that have been discussed in the literature that are considered positive, such as heroism, humanitarian service, group orientation, courage, the worker/provider tradition, and generative fatherhood (see Kiselica and Englar-Carlson 2010). Research is needed to examine how these positive aspects of traditional masculinity are associated with romantic relationship quality.
The construct of nontraditional masculinity is at this point not clearly defined in the literature. The measure of nontraditional masculinity used in this research, the Masculine Gender Role Flexibility subcale, assesses flexibility in the way men conform and internalize traditional masculine norms (McDermott and Joshi 2008). Based on our review of the items, we conceptualized the scale as a measure of acceptance or endorsement of nontraditional masculinity because the items characterize attitudes or beliefs that are contrary to traditional masculinity. Indeed, these items were items that were to be reversed scored in the development of the scale, indicating such beliefs are in opposition to traditional masculinity ideology. However, given the scale developers’ conceptualization of masculine gender role flexibility the results from this study may indicate flexibility as opposed to nontraditional masculinity, due to the lack of a clear conceptualization of the construct of nontraditional masculinity ideology.
There are several limitations to the research that deserve mentioning. It should be noted that although theory supports the direction of the associations specified in the mediation model, a reciprocal association is also possible in which relationship quality and satisfaction may influence how men perceive the importance of the income disparity. Additionally, income disparity was operationalized as a subjective experience as opposed to the objective quantification of income disparity. It would be useful to include in future research the actual amount of income difference as well as the subjective experience of the income disparity. The sample size was a limitation due to the small number of participants who were a mostly homogenous group of men: heterosexually romantically involved, European American, educated men. Thus, generalizability of these results is limited. However, the findings provide impetus for future research in this relatively new area of research inquiry. Future research should involve larger sample sizes and diverse groups of men in terms of race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. Additionally, although men’s perceptions of the quality of their romantic relationships is a valid starting point for exploration of variables that affect their relationships, future research should include the partners of men in the evaluation. In order to gain further insight into the differences between conventional (i.e., man as the primary earner) and unconventional (i.e., woman as the primary earner) relationships, future studies that compare these two types of relationships would be both interesting and useful. Lastly, there are psychological variables that were not included in the current research that could be examined and controlled for when exploring romantic relationship quality. Also lacking in this research was examination of other mediators that may be associated with masculinity ideology and could have an effect on romantic relationship quality, such as style of communication, conflict resolution style, and the pursuer/distance dynamic (see Fogarty 1979). Future research in this area would provide useful insights into the factors that influence the quality and success of romantic relationships in which the man is out-earned by the woman, given the increasing prevalence of this nontraditional relationship.
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