Men are three times more likely to feel pressured to be the main breadwinner in their relationship, according to the first national audit of masculinity published by the male suicide prevention charity CALM last month.
So why do men feel pressure to be the main breadwinner? Here we explore 10 possible reasons and we’d like to hear your theories in the comments section below.
1. You can’t beat biology
The ability to earn money used to be defined almost entirely by biology. However the world of work is no longer so divided. It is a little known fact that single women earn more than single men in the UK—so the pay gap is not simply caused by biology or sex discrimination.
The pay gap is mostly a parenting gap but it’s also a relationship gap. While single women earn more than single men, the moment men and women enter into a relationship with each other a relationship pay gap emerges.
So even in couples where there are no children, men earn more than women on average. Why does this happen? Do men lean in to the provider role? Do women settle in to being provided for? We don’t really know, but we do know it happens
When kids arrive, the parenting pay gap gets bigger with each extra child. This is where biology is definitely playing a part. Men can’t gestate or lactate so having kids means mums spend less time in the workplace and dads take on more responsibility for bringing home the bacon.
There is some sex discrimination at play here. On mum’s side, campaigners claim that 60,000 mums are pushed out of work every year; on dad’s side, unequal parental rights prevent dads having an equal opportunity to be the primary carer (and mum’s having a equal opportunity to be the main breadwinner).
2. Work is a man’s world
Is the world of work still a “man’s world” that favours male breadwinners?
According to the “dissident feminist”, Camille Paglia, “the modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author”.
Paglia was speaking int a debate about The End of Men, Hanna Rosin’s celebrated book in which she claimed that the emerging postindustrial society is better suited to women. This isn’t simply a lef-wing, feminist fantasy. Trevor Nelson, editor of the right-wing Spectator magazine has made a similar observation saying:
“The economy is changing shape, in a way that is to men’s collective disadvantage. Occupations requiring physical strength are rapidly disappearing; a quarter of manufacturing jobs have vanished in the past 10 years. In their place come posts where “work” means grabbing a coffee, heading to the office and getting along with people. The qualities of social intelligence, communication skills and multi-tasking are not ones where men have any innate advantage. The recession has simply accelerated the emasculation of the economy.”
For now, it seems, the economy still favours male breadwinners, making it the obvious choice for most couples to rely on dad to earn most money, but for how much longer?
3. Fathers don’t have equal rights to care for their children
Fathers still don’t have equal rights or opportunities to be involved parents and this pushes men into the breadwinner role. According to the best-selling author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernier—who is a patron of the charity Families Need Fathers—there is a “general mythologising of fathers as irrelevant and feckless abusers” and the family courts treat “fathers heartlessly as mere sperm donors and bankers”.
At the other end of the fatherhood experience, new dads also face discrimination. As the former Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) commissioner Duncan Fisher said, when a Welsh dad whose partner died in childbirth was legally prevented from leaving hospital with his new born child:
“In UK law, a father can only be a father if the mother approves him. She can do this in two ways – marry him or invite him to sign the birth certificate. If neither of these happens, he is not the father until the family court approves him. A man has to be vetted by the mother or the state before he is allowed to be a father.”
When fathers don’t equal rights to take on the role of involved parent, they are inevitably pushed into the role of being the primary breadwinner.
4. Men have narrower choices
The latest British Social Attitudes survey also tells us that:
- Only 28% of people think mums should work full time once the kids start school
- 73% of us think dads should work full time
Put another way, nearly three quarters of the British population—men and women—think men should be the main breadwinners.
What’s happened in the past 50-60 years is that women’s choices have diversified and they have been able to do so because men’s choices have remained relatively stable. Men, for the most part, have continued to provide the economic security that has enabled most modern mums to make one of three life choices:
- To stay at home until the children start school (which 33% of people support)
- To work part time until the children start school (which 43% support)
- To work full time once the kids start school (which 28% support)
When it comes to work-home balance, men simply don’t have the same range of choices:
- 73% of us think dads should work full time
- 5% of us think dads should work part time
- ZERO percent of us think dads should stay at home full time
5. Parental leave benefits don’t give dads equal support
Until very recently, the UK has had one of the most unequal parenting leave entitlement regimes in the world which was described by the Fatherhood Institute as a major driver of gendered responsibility in earning and caring.
This sexist legislation was introduced by the New Labour government in 2006 and attempts to reform it were opposed by an unholy alliance of big business and women’s groups including the feminist Fawcett Society.
In 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised to reform this system saying the laws on parental leave marginalise dads and deny them the chance to play a hands-on role. The new laws on shared parental leave are a big step forward but still discriminate against fathers. According to Ben Moxham at the TUC “the incentives in place for fathers are so poor that even the government estimates that only 2 to 8 per cent of dads are likely to take this leave” and there is still a huge gap between the parental leave pay mums and dads can expect. In the higher education sector, for example, some of the UK’s most generous universities are paying mums over 60 times more than some dads get paid when they take parental leave.
When such huge gender gaps in parental leave pay exist, it is little wonder than men are pushed into the breadwinner role when children enter the equation.
6. Female workers don’t have the same financial ambitions
According to the job website, Adzuna, male job seekers are more ambitious when it comes to earnings, with men being twice as likely as their female counterparts to aspire to top jobs, paying over £100,000.
Adzuna’s survey showed that nearly a third of women would be content with salaries between £20-30k, while only half that number of men claim they would be happy to receive the same level of pay.
A recent survey of graduates made a similar discovery, revealing that while a third (34pc) of male graduates were aiming to earn over £25,000 when they leave university onlya fifth (20pc) of female graduates have the same ambition.
If even the most qualified young women in the country are aiming to earn less than their male counterparts it is inevitable that more men will end up in relationships where they feel pressured to be the main breadwinner.
7. Women don’t want put the same hours in as men
While there are more women in the workplace than ever before, men are still responsible for nearly two-thirds (61%) of the one billion hours people in the UK spend working every week and are three times more likely than women to put in more than 45 hours of paid work each week.
This pattern is set to be repeated by the next generation of workers with male graduates being 50% more likely to say they are prepared to work more than 45 hours a week, than female graduates.
As more men are prepared to work longer hours than women, they are more likely to earn more than their partners and feel pressure to take on the role of main breadwinner.
8. Gentleman prefer work
According to preference theory, there are three key choices facing men and women and these are:
- To prioritise careers, espouse achievement values and lead a work-centred lifestyle
- To prioritise family life and sharing values and lead a home-centred lifestyle
- To combine paid jobs and family work without giving absolute priority to either activity or the accompanying values and lead an adaptive lifestyle
Proponents of preference theory claim that the majority of women are more family orientated while the majority of men are more work orientated and these preferences lead to more men taking on the breadwinner role.
9. Women prefer high achievers
This may seem like an outdated concept, but research suggests that women all over the world still look for breadwinner qualities in their mate and are more likely than men to favour traits related to resources, like ambition, industriousness and earning capacity.
10. The rules of masculinity/femininity
According to the psychologist Martin Seager, there are three ancient rules of masculinity that still inform our experience of being a man today. They are:
- A real man is a fighter and a winner
- A real man is a provider and a protector (of women, children and others)
- A real man retains mastery and control
According to CALM’s audit of masculinity, the majority of men and women (76%) say they believe that men and women in relationships should share equal responsibility for financial matters. The figure is higher for women (83% ) than it is for men (68%).
But what does “equal responsibility” mean? Most of the research in this area suggests that it doesn’t mean bringing home equal amounts of money as nearly three quarters of people think fathers should work full time, while just over a quarter think mothers should work full time.
In CALM’s survey 31% of male respondents said the thought men should be mostly responsible for financial matters. This is lower than the percentage of men who actually end up being the main breadwinner in their family.
Perhaps men are three times more likely to feel pressured to be the main breadwinner because although most men think financial responsibility should be equally shared, in reality, the majority of men still end up doing an unequal share of the breadwinning in their relationship.
And despite the fact that the majority of women say that financial responsibility should be shared equally; the cold, hard reality is that the majority of women, don’t make a equal financial contribution in their relationships (for a variety of reasons)—leaving men more pressure to be the main breadwinner.
WHY DO YOU THINK MEN FEEL PRESSURE TO TAKE ON THE BREADWINNER ROLE IN THEIR RELATIONSHIPS? TELL US WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS SECTION.
—Photo Credit: flickr/Annie Mole
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men