Apparently, as more men lose their jobs due to the economic crisis, more women are becoming the family breadwinner with interesting effects on gender role definitions. A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation called Understanding Fathering, confirmed that it is still largely accepted that the man is the main financial provider, even though many men now say they would rather spend more time bringing up their children. The Future Foundation in 2007 found that only 14% of homes had a sole female breadwinner but predicted that the number would double by 2030.
Women working is nothing new. On a recent trip to the north east of Scotland, I was told stories about the fishing industry. The wives traditionally dealt with all the finances from fish prices to deck hands’ pay, while the men fished. The women were even strong enough to carry the men on their backs to the boats so they started out their trip dry! It was a strongly matriarchal society with clearly defined roles and responsibilities and everyone worked. Then, probably as a result of post war 1950s thinking, a man’s success was redefined by his capacity to ‘keep’ a woman. This belief may make it difficult for both men and women to accept a change in perceived breadwinner.
The other risk is that women continue to try and do it all, taking primary responsibility for the home and dependents while also going out to work. The best outcome could be a re-evaluation of roles, where both men and women have an opportunity to engage with their children, find work they love and share domestic responsibility fairly, so that they can ‘carry’ each other when necessary.