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41 Journal of Marriage and Family 51 (1979)


This study tests the common assertion that women, especially upper middle-class housewives, vicariously experience their husbands’ success. Our findings for 121 mostly upper middle-class housewives disprove this assertion. Husbands’ success does positively affect a housewife’s self-esteem, but only indirectly, through its effect on perceived marital success. Only husband’s income has a direct positive effect on self-esteem, while other successes of the husband actually lower her self-esteem. These findings, made more dramatic by a comparison with professional married women for whom none of the above effects appear, demonstrate the ambiguous impact traditional marriage has on women. Since marriage is traditionally a basis for a woman’s identity, successful marriage increases her feelings of worth. However, the specific role arrangement may reduce her feelings of personal competence.