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Unemployed men may find their domestic roles are changing

August 23, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Even small tasks, such as making coffee, help some men feel they're contributing to the family
Even small tasks, such as making coffee, help some men feel they're… (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles…)

Men who have lost jobs due to the recession may discover their domestic roles are shifting, a study finds.

Researchers conducted interviews with 20 unemployed men to see what impact losing their jobs had on their roles as fathers, husbands, partners and providers. While many were devastated by their loss of jobs and income, they found ways to cope and survive, using various strategies.

One shift seen by the researchers was the men's attitude toward the work their wives and girlfriends did. Twelve of the men in the study, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Assn., were being supported by their female partners, prompting them to find new ways to contribute to the household and feel needed. Instead of resenting their spouses and girlfriends, they were grateful for the support.

"It's a blessing that my wife works and makes good money," said one man. "If I was living on my own, I would be in serious trouble."

The study authors said that by doing more errands and chores around the house the men hoped to compensate for their lack of income and shoulder some of their wives' and girlfriends' burdens.

Said one man of his girlfriend, "I am fortunate that Sue is doing well. I live here with her. If I was on my own, I would be sleeping in my car. We have talked about things, and she knows when the economy turns around, I will be able to pick up the slack a little bit. But for now, I pick up the slack around the house more because I feel like it is the only way to repay my duties that are lost."

The upside to this, the authors said, was that women's jobs were valuable to the family. But despite having respect for the work their wives and girlfriends did, some men felt the need to assert their manhood and confirm their place in the family by various means: redefining their work as being vital to the family, finding safety in numbers by acknowledging other men were going through similar situations, and seeing their partners' jobs as the result of good fortune, not necessarily hard work, talent and drive.

"These men praised women's work in ways that minimized the women's role in getting and keeping that work, even in a larger context of 9.8% unemployment," wrote the authors, who recognized that the sample was too small to be representative.

This may mean gender roles are changing, they said -- but in the short run. The authors added that if men do value women's jobs and careers and see them as less intimidating to their roles as providers, then we may see a greater change in how women's work is appreciated in other social arenas.

"Men's identities have changed," said co-author Ilana Demantas in a news release. "They're proud to contribute to the household, to make up for the work their wives are doing. Yet, they still maintain household authority, holding on to their identities as 'men' any way they can."

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