While our culture’s views about women working have changed substantially in recent decades, our views about men working appear not to have budged very much. Case in point, a study of more than 3,600 couples published recently in the American Journal of Sociology, which links unemployed men with higher divorce rates.
Despite the fact that more men are choosing to be stay-at-home dads while their wives work, this particular study surprised me in saying it’s still not culturally acceptable for men to be the primary care givers. Men who are not working face a greater likelihood that their wife would leave them. In addition, the men themselves were more likely to leave the relationship.
Whether a woman worked or not had no bearing on her husband’s likelihood of leaving her. However, a working woman who was very unhappy in her marriage was more likely to begin divorce proceedings than if she was unemployed. Researchers explain that these women have the resources that allow them to leave, but they said the employment itself wasn’t the source of tension.
So, there’s a bit of a dichotomy between working men and women. The reasons aren’t clear, although one possibility was that unemployed men are more likely to suffer from depression. And our cultural expectations of men appear to be still wrapped up on them being providers. (However, American women’s have outpaced men in education and income growth during the last 40 years. Read Who’s Marrying for Money?)
The study, reported in Time Magazine, is consistent with one from Ohio State, which also showed that men who don’t have a job have higher rates of leaving the relationship, and that their partners also have higher rates of leaving the relationship.
I have known some very competent stay-at-home dads with professional wives who are the breadwinners. I know it can work for many families, so I don’t want to come off as against this sort of arrangement. I think the knowledge of this research makes it clear that a couple who chooses to go this route will be going against the cultural grain and should be prepared to discuss the ongoing challenges. In addition, they should both be aware of the risk of depression, possibly from loss of social network or feeling overwhelmed by child-rearing responsibilities. They should also work hard to make the marriage a priority in the family.
One note, I don’t think the research differentiates between the men who were unemployed by choice and those who were unemployed by circumstance. It seems the latter group would have higher rates of depression.
See a summary of the study here.
Do you or your partner have experience being a stay-at-home parent? Do you think the challenges are different for men than for women? Do you think society’s views on men working are outdated or appropriate?
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