When GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, touted mothers as the ones who “really hold the country together,” at the convention last week, she touched a nerve for a lot of us, and not in a good way.
Not only did women who are choosing to be childfree wonder where they stand in mattering to their country, but stay-at-home dads were equally pissed. As Mega SAHD blogger Mark Greene wrote for the Good Men Project, “We modern dads are not the stereotypical disengaged working men of fifty years ago who dismissed the work that mothers do. We do this work, too and we know it can be an ass whipping.”
There are more hands-on dads than ever before; some 1.8 million are single dads and 154,000 men are stay-at-home dads, according to recent Census figures, which means more men are “holding the country together” — or at least their family!
And as Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work and Care and Brock University sociology professor Andrea Doucet writes, the numbers are deceiving:
While these numbers indicate a three-fold increase since 1986, they also seriously underestimate the numbers of fathers who provide much of the daily care of children.
Excluded from these numbers are secondary, irregular, flexible, or part-time earners; part-time students; work-at-home dads (WAHDS); unemployed job-seekers, the underemployed, and discouraged workers. Moreover, statistics that follow only husband-wife families exclude a growing number of single, divorced, and gay fathers.
But the question that needs to be asked is, how many of those stay-at-home dads actively chose that role and how many were forced into it by the economic recession, the “unemployed job-seekers, the underemployed, and discouraged workers”? There is a difference in how that impacts Dad and Mom.
Because for all our talk about the “new dad,” we still expect men to be the provider, although that is proving harder and harder for men in this economy. As journalist Hanna Rosin (you may know her from her controversial Atlantic article, “The End of Men,” and the debate on whether men are finished that followed) writes in “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?”:
“It used to be that in working-class America, men earned significantly more than women. Now in that segment of the population, the gap between men and women is shrinking faster than in any other, according to June Carbone, an author of Red Families v. Blue Families. … As the economy fails to fully recover, it’s unclear what will happen to traditionally male or female jobs generally.
So what does that mean? Certainly, we should be celebrating more men being the hands-on caregivers.
Not so fast!
Among the somewhat surprising research is that the more economically dependent a man is on his wife, to more likely he is to cheat, according to Christin Munsch, a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford’s Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. And as we all know, infidelity is one of the main reasons for divorce, according to numerous studies.
Munsch is among those contributing to a growing body of research on threats to masculinity, and is working on a book Man Up: Masculinity Threat and Compensation in Young American Men. Some men who experience threats to their gender identity overcompensate by resorting to booze and drugs, engaging in risk-taking behavior, become sexually aggressive, and express anger and aggression, she says. And, yes — they’re more likely to have an affair.
In an email exchange, I asked Munsch if we’re liable to see more cheating men as the numbers of SAHDs increase. Probably, she notes. For men who “voluntarily, happily left the labor market to stay at home, they would not experience it as threatening to their masculinity or feel the need to compensate in response,” she says.
But, she adds, “if more men are staying at home out of necessity, for example because of of job loss during times of economic downtown, then according to the theory they would be more likely to cheat.”
Of course, working women have many more opportunities to cheat (and apparently are acting on it).
- Do you believe men who stay home because of the economy — not by choice — feel emasculated?
- Do you believe it leads them to cheat?