KAMLOOPS — The male ego is attached to being the chief breadwinner. It’s a fictitious remnant of the caveman’s role as hunter and provider. The stereotype was perpetuated when men returned from World War II and replaced women in industrial jobs.
With the decline of industrial jobs in North America, and with more women getting a post-secondary education, women are positioned to move into professional jobs. Over the past four decades, full time jobs have increased for women while decreasing for men.
Not just men who have lost industrial jobs worry. Alan, 40, is a successful accountant and his wife, a doctor, earns more than him. At first, Alan was embarrassed by his wife’s breadwinner status. “It was a male ego thing,” he told Levo.com. “There was just something about it that made me feel inadequate. I knew it was illogical.” After simmering for years, the issue came to a head and the couple sat down and talked about the toll that wage imbalance was taking on Alan’s self-esteem. “She helped me gain perspective. There are so many more important things to worry about in life than who makes more money.”
Wage inequity weighs heavily on wives, too. Alyson Byrne and Julian Barling investigated the toll it takes on relationships in their study published in Organization Science. “You have to imagine that a lot of these women, particularly in senior executive or high-status roles, are very smart and very ambitious. We know from management studies that they’ve had to work that much harder and face that many more barriers,” says Dr. Byrne.
Byrne and Barling studied 200 high-achieving businesswomen in Canada in relationships where 44 per cent of husbands made less than they did. Many wives reported a personal loss of status when responding to statements such as “My spouse’s job impedes my future career success;” “I am embarrassed when my spouse accompanies me to work events;” “My spouse’s work makes me look bad.”
This “status leakage” manifested itself in marital dissatisfaction and instability. However, stress was reduced in relationships where the husband was willing to provide an increased roll in child care and household chores.
Frank discussions between partners are critical in reducing martial stress. Men need to lay their own insecurities bare. “The whole time,” said Alan, “I thought I was doing a pretty good job of hiding my feelings, but it turns out she knew and was internalizing my resentment into guilt. That about broke my heart.”
Left to fester, wage disparity can be toxic unless dealt with openly. Unemployed men become confused about their role. They become more violent and controlling. Drug and alcohol abuse increase; so do suicide rates.
Wives need to be frank, as well. Dr. Byrne found that wives are not angry or disgusted, but that they feel a sense of loss. “They are just feeling loss or wishing that they [husbands] were at a similar level to their own, but it creates these long-term impacts on their marriages.”
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