Research Matters

Research Matters


The acute economic downturn that began in 2008 sometimes is called the "mancession" to reflect its harsher impact on men than women. As recently as last November, 10.4 percent of adult men were unemployed as compared to 8 percent of adult women. But how do unemployed men cope with their shifting domestic roles, especially when they become financially dependent on a wife or female partner? One University of Kansas researcher has investigated the impact of joblessness on masculinity and the "breadwinner ideology" within the context of traditional families.

Episode #99

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A new study finds shifting domestic roles for men who lost jobs in current recession. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I’m Brendan Lynch.

KU graduate student Ilana Demantas (Ill-LAH-na Dee-MON-tus) has interviewed recently unemployed men to discover the impact of joblessness on masculinity and the “breadwinner ideology” within the context of traditional families.

Demantas: It changes how men think of themselves. Usually men see themselves as supporters of the family, and since a lot of them are no longer able to do that, they have to construct their identity in a new way to allow them to still think positively of themselves.

Working with Kristen Meyers of Northern Illinois University, Demantas found that out-of-work men use an array of strategies to deal with their situations. While some men suffer from depression, the KU researcher found that most proudly embrace domestic chores such as childcare and housework.

Demantas: Before unemployment, while they very much valued ‘women’s work,’ men still constructed their identity in a way that allowed them to remain in charge. Working was a way to sort of say, ‘I’m the man.’ But now managing the family is a way to label themselves as men. So they’ve actually used ‘women’s work’ to see themselves as contributing to the family. It’s sort of a silver lining in a very bleak recession.

In the meantime, Demantas found that men who were out of work in the recession highly valued the employed women in their families who still were able to bring in a vital income stream.

Demantas: They very much felt grateful that women were employed. One subject said, ‘I’m so lucky that my wife is still working, and she has a great insurance policy.’ Another said, ‘If she weren’t working I’d be sleeping in a car or something.’ And some of our subjects take up more household work. One of the subjects said he woke up early and made coffee for his wife because it was the one nice thing he could do for her since he wasn’t contributing economically.

For more on the mancession, log on to Research Matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I’m Brendan Lynch.

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