Women aren’t just in the workplace in greater numbers these days. They’re also the primary breadwinner with greater frequency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40 percent of American women earn more than their husbands. A report from the Center for American Progress in April found that about 70 percent of women in low-income families (income in the bottom 20 percent) are the main household earners. It’s about half for middle-income families. And one-third for among the top 20 percent.
This may sound like progress (and for women, it is), but it’s putting a strain on some marriages. Despite growing up in the midst of the women’s movement, men can still feel anger or shame at not “bringing home the bacon.”
“I don’t think so much about gender roles, but I do feel angry and helpless because I can’t financially support the family unit,” one stay-at-home dad tells The Wall Street Journal.
However, the stress of this gender role swap is lessened if men make enough money should they need to step up to the breadwinner role.
“Pressure eases up—and perceptions seem to change—when husbands’ salaries are enough to support the family should the wives’ pay evaporate,” the story goes on to say.
So men don’t feel quite so much anger — or perhaps stress — when they know they can step in to help their families financially if it’s necessary to do so. Other men would prefer not to occupy the stay-at-home role at all. All of this is indicative of a culture that’s still in flux when it comes to gender roles. Even as women take more significant roles in terms of household income, the income gap persists, especially among women of color. Attitudes and societal norms haven’t kept up with the realities on the ground.
The economic recession and the need for someone, anyone, in the home to earn money for the family will help move this issue along. In the meantime, women must work with their partners and spouses to make sure that the family is making ends meet without stepping on anyone’s ego.
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