I can’t pretend otherwise, it took me a long time to come around to the idea of both International Women’s Day and International Men’s Day. I found them to be slightly vague concepts and at times the debates they have created have been off-putting.
This International Men’s Day, I’m doing something a bit special. You may find me gracing your small screen at some point as I feature in a video recorded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to encourage men to consider flexible working.
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.
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.
I was recently invited to record a Morning Story for Sky News (a bit like Thought for the Day, but for television). My piece was broadcast today and I chose to speak about gender inequality. In particular, I focused on traditionally female spheres where men struggle to make headway.
What life skills do you want your children to learn? Put a different way, what skills do you think they need to be taught by you, as their mother / father?
I’ve long held some uncompromising opinions about this. I’ve always gone out of my way to nurture an interest in DIY among my daughters. If I’m doing some work in the garden or home improvements and I can safely get them involved, I’ll always try.
I want them to know the difference between a pozi drive and a flat head screwdriver. I also want them to know how to change a plug, change a flat tyre and understand the basics of the internal combustion engine.
I could continue with this list, but I’m not going to. I think you can see where I am coming from.
There are various reasons I want my daughters to know these things. I regard them as essential life skills that could prove useful at any time. As you may have noticed, they are also stereotypically male tasks. They shouldn’t be, but that, unfortunately, is the way of the world.
I recently alluded to this in an article I wrote for my Huffington Post blog. I mentioned that, as a stay at home dad, I believe I have taken on more responsibilities than a stay at home mum.
You’re probably wondering why. Surely it was a straight swap of gender roles; my wife became provider and I became homemaker?
Alas, it’s not that simple. In addition to running the household and looking after the kids, I retained all the stereotypically male responsibilities. Home maintenance, DIY, car maintenance, you know, the activities that men are supposed to do at weekends? Well, they remain on my to do list. This is because my wife doesn’t have the knowledge or skills to do them. I don’t want my kids to be in this position, I want them to know how to undertake these male activities, for want of a better phrase.
This is a two way street. Some years ago, before I had children, I was at a family picnic. I was deep in conversation with a family member and close family friend. I said that if I had a son, I would expect him to know how to cook, clean, wash, iron and sew.
I didn’t think I’d said anything particularly radical. Their response suggested otherwise. The conversation came to an abrupt end and they both looked at me like I was insane.
In summary, I think we all need to know how to cook a roast, sew a hem, wire a plug, change a fuse and install a broadband router. I don’t see these as male or female tasks, simply life skills that children should be taught regardless of gender.
Are there skills you want your children to be taught? Shouldn’t boys and girls know how to sew and jump start a car? Maybe you consider my thoughts dangerous and radical? Please do leave a comment below.