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-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Scholars have long recognized the so-called “wage premium” that married men incur, a premium which holds across nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Explaining this premium, however, has proven more difficult. Generally, scholars attribute the marriage premium to some combination of selection effect (marriage and workplace success are caused by the same underlying factors) and treatment effects (marriage improves productivity, particularly by means of household specialization). Researchers Sarah Ashwin of the London School of Economics and Olga Isupova of the Institute of Demography in Moscow, however, point out that neither has sufficient explanatory power, and they seek to dig deeper. The authors hypothesize four “treatment mechanisms” which they believe impact the Married Male Wage Premium (MMWP): “premarital planning, two distinct ‘breadwinner’ effects, and monitoring by wives.”
The authors choose to conduct their study using survey information from Russian men, for a couple of different reasons. First, due to the Soviet state’s encouragement of female employment, over 75% of working-age Russian women were active in the workplace (in 2009). Second, although women’s employment has been stressed by the Russian state, women have also retained primary responsibility for household labor and childcare, so any MMWP that is a result of labor specialization should be remarkably clear in Russia. The researchers glean their data from a longitudinal qualitative study looking at gender differences in light of Russia’s new labor market. Interviewers met with study respondents four times over the course of two years and asked specific questions about labor market involvement, motivations, household division of labor, and attitudes toward “breadwinning.” After excluding the responses of those who were under age 25 and unmarried when they left the study, the researchers were left with a sample of 94 respondents.
The researchers found significant support for their hypothesized “treatment mechanisms.” Part of what has been termed “selection effect” in previous studies, the researchers believe upon examining the Russian men’s responses, is due to premarital planning. That is, men who intended to marry already saw themselves as breadwinners and planned for higher-paying careers. Conversely, those men with no intentions to marry tended to hold part-time employment and live with their parents. The researchers found little evidence to support specialization of labor—men completed few hours of household labor per week either before or after marriage in Russia, a country where household tasks are seen as feminine. Mothers, female relatives, or paid employees did the household chores for nonmarried men.
Second, the researchers found two ways in which marriage makes men more willing and motivated to work. First, “[i]n holding men accountable to responsible masculinity, wives exert significant pressure on men to provide.” Wives in Russia may tend to be working outside the home at a higher rate than elsewhere, but this only gives them the economic ability to leave when they feel their husbands are not adequately fulfilling the expected role of primary breadwinner. Second, “the link between breadwinning and masculine identity imbues the work of married men with additional meaning, which encourages the internalization of extrinsic work motivation.” Married men see work as something more significant precisely because of their roles as breadwinners.
Lastly, wifely “monitoring” plays a role in men’s increased labor participation and wage increase. Particularly in Russia, where alcoholism is a very serious problem, wives are crucial in helping men to stay healthy, avoid excessive drinking, get to work promptly, and otherwise focus their efforts on staying gainfully employed.
“To summarize our model of the treatment aspect of the MMWP,” the authors conclude, “we argue that the premium is an outcome of the coproduction of masculinity prior to and within marriage.” In other words, “responsible” masculinity, in Russia, means that men are the primary breadwinners, and their wives constantly remind them of their role.
Previously hypothesized labor specialization theories—which argue that men can spend more time and effort on money-producing labor because their wives take care of the cooking and cleaning—only scratch the surface of why married men tend to earn more than unmarried men. Instead, this study suggests that there is something fundamentally different in men’s nature, something which makes them want to provide for a wife and children and which makes work more meaningful when they can fulfill that provider role.
(Sarah Ashwin and Olga Isupova, “‘Behind Every Great Man . . . ’: The Male Marriage Wage Premium Examined Qualitatively,” Journal of Marriage and Family 76 [February 2014]: 37-55.)