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Do Wives' Work Hours Hurt Husbands' Health? Reassessing the Care Work Deficit Thesis

Kristen W. Springer

Social Science Research
September 2010
Prior research suggests that wives’ full-time employment harms husbands’ health because employed wives have less time to promote their husbands’ salubrious behavior (“care work deficit thesis” (CWDT)). In this manuscript, I analyze couple-level, longitudinal Health and Retirement Study data to assess whether evidence for the CWDT is robust to an array of sensitivity tests and correction of limitations from prior research. Specifically, I account for methodological/measurement limitations (i.e. proxy reporting), causal ordering/selection concerns (i.e. retirement and reverse causation), and conceptual issues (i.e. wives’ income vs. wives’ hours affecting husbands’ health). The results provide strong and repeated evidence that prior support for the CWDT is due to conceptual and model misspecification. In other words, the results indicate that wives’ full-time work hours do not harm husbands’ health. However, further analyses suggest that wives’ and husbands’ income may differently affect husbands’ health, underscoring the need for gendered analyses of income and health within marriage

Kristen W. Springer. 2010. "Do Wives' Work Hours Hurt Husbands' Health? Reassessing the Care Work Deficit Thesis." Social Science Research, 39: 801-813.