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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 19:12

Female Breadwinners value independence, not worries

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In a 2009 research study performed at the University of Missouri, a U.S. researcher studied the experiences of female breadwinners and found that there are six key pluses and minuses in assuming the role of the primary income earner in the family.


In the November 2009 article “The Female Breadwinner: Phenomenological Experience and Gendered Identity in Work/Family Spaces” (doi: 10.1007/s11199-009-9714-5) within the journal Sex Roles, author Rebecca J. Meisenbach summarizes her study on FBWs, or female breadwinners, in industrialized society.

Dr. Rebecca Meisenbach, an assistant professor from the Department of Communication at the University of Missouri, Columbia, states that only small amounts of research has been done on the "experiences" of FBWs in industrialized countries, such as the United States.

She states in the abstract of her paper, “These experiences impact individual, family, and organizational decision making.”

For her study, Dr. Meisenbach studied fifteen female breadwinners, between the ages of 23 and 60 years, from the eastern and Midwestern sections of the United States “… who were recruited via electronic message boards and personal contacts.”

They were each interviewed and asked to describe their experiences as “female breadwinners.”

The results of the study are broken down into six “essential” elements of experiences: (1) opportunities for control, (1) valuing independence, (3) feeling pressure and worry, (4) valuing partner’s contributions, (5) feeling guilt and resentment, and (6) ambition and valuing career progression.

The November 24, 2009 news release “Female Breadwinners Bring Home the Bacon and Tension ” from the University of Missouri (MU) News Bureau goes into details about the experiences of female breadwinners in their non-traditional roles in U.S. society.

Page two continues.




The article introduces the concept of the FBW by saying that about one out of three households (per statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) in the United States have a female breadwinner (who is the only or the primary breadwinner in their family).

And, this ratio is increasing as men are being laid off from their jobs during this global economic recession.

As women assume an increasing role of the major financial contributor of families, Dr. Meisenbach has found that these females “… experience both benefits and tensions… ” from their roles.

Dr. Meisenback states, “The female breadwinner is becoming increasingly more common and important in contemporary society. They challenge and impact traditional middle and upper class views of familial relations, individual identities and organizational policies.”

The MU article adds, “Societal standards still exist among white collar families in the United States, such as men are expected to be the breadwinners of married families, and women are expected to take care of the children, even if they are working.”

Negative feelings occur with these female breadwinners: “These societal expectations and gender norms can leave the female breadwinner with feelings of worry, pressure, guilt and resentment…. For example, female breadwinners experience moments of guilt about care giving, pressure to perform at work and for their families, and occasional resentment at the demands of their multiple and atypical roles.”

However, positive feelings also occur: “The negative effects for female breadwinners are balanced with opportunities for control, independence and ambition. The study found that while some of the women did not want the control, they all did enjoy a sense of independence based on being the main source of income in a family. Most of these women also identify themselves as having strong ambition regarding career success and goal achievement.”

Page three concludes.




The conclusions of this study are important in understanding the interplay between men and women in their roles of providing financial support to their families.

Dr. Meisenbach adds, “Understanding how females experience the breadwinner role can lead to improvements in how female breadwinning couples communicate and deal with societal expectations.”

“Also, many public policies are based on the model of males as breadwinners. Research on female breadwinners will encourage policies that recognize both male and female employees as breadwinners."

"As one potential outcome, awareness of the pressure to perform and sense of ambition that many female breadwinners experience may convince organizations that these highly motivated employees warrant changes in company policies.”


Women are increasingly forced to deal with guilt, resentment, and other negative emotions as they assume more leading roles in industrial socieites.

They struggle with expectations from themselves, their partners, and from society in general.

However, these negative feelings, along with the positive ones of independence, control, and ambition, will help to create and develop their own identities as men and women increasingly share responsibilities both at home and at work.

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