Husbands, beware: Your wife's job may be dangerous to your health.
At least that's one way to interpret the results of a study by University of Chicago sociologist Ross Stolzenberg. He found that the husbands of women who worked more than 40 hours a week were significantly less healthy than other married men. At the same time, his research showed that long hours at work by husbands had no harmful effect on the health of their wives, employed or not.
But there's another equally provocative way to interpret his findings--perhaps best captured, Stolzenberg said, in what he called the "wonderfully amusing title" of a 1970s-era journal article, "Warning: The Male Sex Role May be Dangerous to Your Health."
Stolzenberg's analysis, published recently in the American Journal of Sociology, is based on survey data collected in 1986 from 2,867 adults, including their spouses, as part of the Americans' Changing Lives survey conducted by the University of Michigan. Study participants were interviewed again three years later.
In both surveys, participants were asked to assess their overall health on a scale that ranged from "excellent" to "poor." (Researchers have consistently found that these kinds of general self-ratings are more accurate than a doctor's evaluation, Stolzenberg noted.) The surveys also solicited information about employment, hours worked and other data.
Stolzenberg confirmed what researchers already know: Marriage is healthy. Married men and married women were significantly more likely to report that they were in good health than single people, if other important factors were held constant.
Similarly, working long hours had no perceptible effect on the health of either men or women. The additional time on the job actually seemed to boost the well-being of most men. The surprise came when he examined the effect of a wife's employment on her husband. "Fewer than 40 hours of work per week by wives has no effect on husbands' health, but more than 40 hours has substantial negative effect," he reported.
Why might a workaholic wife pose a health risk for a husband? Stolzenberg says a big reason is that husbands and wives generally still have different roles in a marriage--and maintaining the family's health largely remains women's work.