Volume 35 - Article 41 | Pages 1213–1244

Who brings home the bacon? The influence of context on partners' contributions to the household income

By Agnese Vitali, Bruno Arpino

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Date received:13 Mar 2016
Date published:26 Oct 2016
Word count:6713
Keywords:European Social Survey, female-breadwinner couples, gender equality, male unemployment
Weblink:You will find all publications in this Special Collection “Finding Work‒Life Balance: History, Determinants, and Consequences of New Breadwinning Models in the Industrialized World” here.


Background: Female-breadwinner families represent a relatively new phenomenon in Europe. Little is known about the determinants of this couple type, which sensibly diverts from the traditional economic superiority of men within the household.

Objective: This paper studies the contextual correlates of partners’ contribution to the household income, distinguishing between female-breadwinner, male-breadwinner, and equal-income couples. In particular, it focuses on the role of male unemployment rate and the prevalence of gender-egalitarian attitudes as possible explanations for the emergence of female-breadwinner and equal-income couples across European regions and countries.

Methods: Using data from the fifth round (2010/2011) of the European Social Survey, integrated with data from the Eurostat database, we model the categorical variable identifying the couple type (male-breadwinner, female-breadwinner, or equal-income couple) by using a multilevel multinomial logistic regression model where individuals are nested within regions and countries.

Results: The prevalence of female-breadwinner, male-breadwinner, and equal-income couples varies considerably across European countries as well as within countries. The prevalence of female-breadwinner couples is positively associated with male unemployment, while it is not influenced by the diffusion of gender-egalitarian attitudes. However, the diffusion of gender-egalitarian attitudes matters for explaining the variation in the prevalence of equal-income couples across Europe.

Contribution: We add to the literature on partners’ contributions to household income by analysing the spatial distribution and the contextual correlates of female-breadwinner, male-breadwinner, and equal-income couples across European countries and regions.

Author's Affiliation

Agnese Vitali - University of Southampton, United Kingdom [Email]
Bruno Arpino - Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy [Email]

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