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Married Mixed-gender Couples’ Midlife Employment and Later Life Well-being and Housework

Abstract

This study explored the role of midlife market-work arrangements of married mixed-gender couples on gendered experiences in emotional well-being and housework during the encore years. Working during midlife may shape long-term outcomes after couples leave the workforce and begin retirement. Using three theories of gender as a framework to understand work sharing in couples, the study theoretically connects work arrangements in midlife with long-term predictions of gender differences in couple emotional well-being and housework. Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (2000–2015; N = 3,231), the study found that gender differences in housework were similar in male-earner and dual-earner couples during the encore years. However, women in male-earner marriages reported low levels of emotional well-being in the encore years, while men in dual-earner couples in mid-life reported high levels of well-being. The findings suggest more gendered experiences in midlife employment correlated with worse mental health in the encore years for women. Understanding midlife employment as a protective factor against depressive symptoms is useful for families, practitioners, and policymakers to be aware of as they seek to understand and mitigate drivers of poor mental health during the encore years. The study demonstrates a need for further development of dynamic theoretical models to explain gender differences over the life course.

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Acknowledgements

We appreciate helpful comments from Deborah Carr, Jonathan Gershuny, Phyllis Moen, and Robert Pollack. Maggie Marchant provided excellent research assistance.

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JSW conceived and designed the study. Material preparation and data analysis were performed by JSW. The first draft of the manuscript was written by JSW. Both authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript, and both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jocelyn S. Wikle.

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The authors have no competing interests to declare that are relevant to the content of this article.

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Wikle, J.S., Yorgason, J.B. Married Mixed-gender Couples’ Midlife Employment and Later Life Well-being and Housework. Sex Roles 87, 154–166 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-022-01306-0

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Keywords

  • Couples
  • Sex roles
  • Division of labor
  • Well being
  • Housework