Breadwinning – How Men are Affected by this Cultural Standard

men and breadwinning

Since prehistoric times, the human race has adopted and carried out very specific gender roles. The men were hunters, the women were foragers. As society became more and more civilized (arguably), gender roles shifted – but persisted. Up until very, very recently, the men in American society were consistently expected to land a good job, marry, and provide financially for themselves and their families. Get a 12-hour-a-day job in the local steel mill, build a log cabin by hand in a matter of weeks, and barbeque up an expertly butchered buck which they had shot in the backwoods after work. Or, climb the executive ladder until they landed at the pinnacle of the high rise, buy a mansion in the Hamptons, and pay for a nanny to look after their offspring while they met with other high-up honchos (and while the wife took a private cooking lesson or played tennis with the girls).

No matter what specific demographic any one male hailed from, he essentially had a blueprint of his life laid out before him at birth. Protector, provider… breadwinner. Bring home the bacon and let wifey cook it up (and let her clean up afterwards, while he relaxes, watches the game, and cracks open a cold one).

Bringing Home the Bacon

Most men embrace the role of breadwinner; the importance of this gender standard has been passed down generationally throughout the years. It is as much a cultural staple as baseball and apple pie. However, a new study shows that men who feel too much pressure to provide (without any spousal assistance), suffer from a decline in both mental and physical health. The results of the study showed that many men feel breadwinning to be a stressful and tiresome obligation, while many women, on the other hand, view breadwinning as an opportunity to bolster self-esteem by contributing economically to their families. As it turns out, household income dynamics are more than just an integral part of American culture – they can have a major impact on the overall well-being of any given partnership, and can greatly impact the health of the family unit as a whole. Researchers collected data from heterosexual married couples across the nation, all between the ages of 18 and 32. The lead author, Christin Munsch, PhD, noted that the most significant finding of the study (which is set to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association), was rather surprising: men who felt higher levels of obligations to provide for their families experienced a far greater decline in mental and physical health. The men who were the sole breadwinners for their families were found to have psychological scores of 5 percent lower and physical health scores of 3.5 percent lower than married men who had partners who contributed equally.

Men and Cultural Standards

These findings are important for many reasons, but primarily because they exemplify the fact that gender-related expectations can be just as detrimental to men as they are to women. A lot of the time, research regarding gender roles explores how women are disadvantaged – how their self-esteem might suffer, how they may be underestimated, and how they might be restricted by traditional, cultural norms. In actuality, men suffer from cultural expectations and restrictions just as much as women. They feel obligated to be the sole providers, perhaps exchanging personal passions and interests for potential career advancements and long hours at the office. Many men will accept promotions regardless of whether or not their family would benefit from a raise in salary; they simply feel obligated to accept because, well… that is what is expected. Additionally, many men will inadvertently and deeply intertwine their sense of self-worth with their ability to consistently progress in their professional field.

Yes, many men will develop a sense of self-identity, worthiness, and purpose around their ability to economically provide. Sadly, many men who are laid off from their jobs, are severely injured while working, or, for whatever other reason, become unemployed, thereafter struggle to find a sense of purpose in life. Furthermore, studies show that men who are underemployed or underemployed suffer significantly higher rates of divorce. This could be partially because rates of depression are so much higher amongst unemployed men, and untreated depression frequently leads to serious interpersonal problems. We at Next Chapter focus on helping men attain an essential sense of balance in their professional and personal lives, while simultaneously helping them develop a strong sense of their inherent worth as human beings. Our strong family program allows men and their spouses the opportunity to work through any potentially detrimental disparities, and focuses on healing the involved individuals in order to mend the overall dynamic.

To learn more about our male-exclusive program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today.