Shock horror! The rise of the breadwinning woman

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I’ve just returned from a holiday in Portugal with the family. While out there, I casually checked my mobile phone one day and discovered I had a missed call from a number I didn’t recognise. I could have ignored it if I was at home, but when I get such calls on holiday I always feel a mild sense of panic. I worry in case it is from a concerned neighbour trying to tell me about a problem back at home. This occasion was no different and so I returned the call.

breadwinner, gender equality, equality, stay at home dads, working mothers,
A loaf of bread and a badge saying ‘winner’. See what I did there?

It was a neighbour at all. It was from a chap called Mark from Talk Radio. He was sorry to be bothering me on holiday, but I would I go on air to discuss the rise of the female breadwinner?

We had nothing planned on the day in question, it was only going to be a few minutes and the quality of the phone line was good and so I said “sim” (That’s Portuguese for yes).

A short while later I found myself talking live on air to broadcasting legend Penny Smith while sat in the one place I was guaranteed peace; our rented Fiat Panda.

I’m so glad I agreed to this request. The catalyst for the conversation was some new research that has been carried out by a team at the university of Connecticut in the United States.

It was a fascinating study into the impact on women and men’s mental and physical health of having breadwinning status. If I hadn’t agreed to the Talk Radio interview I’d probably never have heard of it.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well, the research team discovered that men’s mental and physical health suffers if they are the main breadwinner for their family. Sharing the financial burden brings long-term benefits to their well-being.

For women, however, the picture is slightly different. A woman’s health benefits if she is the sole provider. Their emotional health and happiness declines as a woman contribute less financially to the household. To a stay at home father such as myself, this was fascinating stuff.

The research was based on analysis of the US-based National Longtitudinal Study of Youth between 2007 and 2011. Responses from 9,000 people were analysed for the research.

The research found that men’s mental health appeared to be at its lowest during the years when they were their family’s sole breadwinner. For women, however, their psychological well-being improved as they contributed more to the household.

The conclusions reached by the team were equally fascinating. It seems to come down to a certain view of masculinity that is still pervasive to this day.

For men, breadwinning is a burden. They are supposed to be the hunter-gatherer, providing for their wife and children. It is simply what guys do and to fail in this task is to fail at being a man.

For women, however, economic success is just that; success. It is a choice they make and to be seen as economically successful is something to celebrate and good for their well-being.

I had to put this theory to my breadwinner wife. I was curious to know what Mrs Adams thought as she does occasionally tell me she feels stress at having to provide financially for our two children and I. She looked towards the cloudless sky for a moment (we were in Portugal remember) and said that to her, fulfilling the breadwinning role came with stresses but overall, it felt like success.

I thought about other couples I know. I can think of one or two where the guy’s financial contribution is dwarfed by his wife’s. In these situations I never fully understand why he continues to work when he could give it up or work part time, do most of the childcare and, in theory, it would be cost-neutral and much better for the kids. That, however, is a blog post for another day.

As I have said, this research was carried out in the United States. If we take a second to look at the picture in the UK, I think we’d better prepare for a slow but steady increase in breadwinning women.

We regularly hear of the gender pay gap. My response when I hear this is to ask “which gender pay gap?” If you take a look at the Office of National Statistics figures, the picture is considerably more muddied than the way it is usually presented in the media and by point-scoring politicians.

You can take a look for yourself by following this link. The reality is that women, on average, out earn men until the age of 29, roughly the age when most start having children.

Surely, over time, this will lead to more and more women being the main breadwinner? It certainly should if society can get over an unhelpful and outdated view of masculinity where they expect to be the breadwinner.

Do you agree? Do you think women who provide for their families are seen as successful while for men it is just the done thing? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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