GARY BARKER : The Status of Fatherhood

November 9, 2021

Men’s ability to financially support their family is equated with their identity and self-worth. Living up to this requires that men have a job, conform to the 1950’s ideal worker image, and advance at work. This is the expectation we all hold for men, and it limits men’s freedom to explore their identities outside of work.

We need to let go of the idea that women’s careers are somehow expendable, but men’s careers are not. This is not just good for women, it’s good for men. For example, a 2016 study found that men are better able to accommodate their dual identities when their wives work because they get to define success outside of just the breadwinner role. Sharing the burden to provide for the family frees men up to rethink their identity. The greatest challenge men face in straying from the breadwinner role is the risk of losing their self-worth and social status. When men don’t work, they forgo their place in society. Men can no longer build their confidence through their work, so they need to find this somewhere else. Research investigating how men deal with job loss finds that not only do men carry a heavy financial and emotional strain when they are let go, but they also struggle with the sense that they are no longer real men. We look down on men who are not breadwinners because they are not fulfilling what society deems men’s role should be. Research also finds this can be painful for men, especially if they are stay-at-home dads and their wives take on the breadwinner role. Men may try to rebalance this perceived loss of masculinity by being less supportive when it comes to childcare and domestic chores.

To unpack this issue we are joined by the Report’s author Gary Barker, who will start us off by sharing how the role of fathers has changed over time.