Bargaining Bonus or Breadwinning Burden? Relative Spousal Earnings and Mental Health

Katrina M. Leupp, University of Washington

Though relative income across households is a key explanatory component in the socioeconomic gradient in health and mortality, it is unclear how relative earnings within households impact health. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 in fixed effects models, the paper tests the relevancy of household bargaining, specialization, and equity models for understanding the relationship between relative spousal earnings and depression. Results indicate that increases in relative earnings decrease depressive symptoms, but only for individuals who earn less than their spouse. The beneficial effect of increased relative earnings differs by gender and parental status: relative to men without children, mothers benefit the least from gains in income share while fathers benefit the most. These findings lend greater support to the bargaining perspective than to a specialization model, and highlight the roles of equity and gender in determining when increases in bargaining power have consequences for mental health.

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Presented in Poster Session 7