Attitudes may have changed since the days when husbands brought home the bacon and when wives stayed home with the kids. But it turns out deviating from conventional gender roles makes both men and women miserable.
Research by Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak at the University of Illinois examined data on nearly 1,500 men and 1,800 women and found the more women’s paychecks increased, the more women reported symptoms of depression.
But the opposite effect was found in men: their psychological well-being was highest when they were the primary wage-earners.
This held true even for couples who had a more egalitarian view of gender roles. Modern views notwithstanding, men’s health took a hit when their earnings shrank.
The cultural response to findings like these is often the same: societal expectations regarding gender roles have been too slow to evolve. If it were considered “acceptable” for men to take care of the kids while women brought home the paycheck, or so the thinking goes, there would be no issue. Thus, no depression.
In fact, it is feminist ideals, not domestic duties, that make women unhappy. Wives are wired to depend on men and thus tend to be unhappy when they cannot do so. This is true even for women who are economically independent. What matters most is knowing they can depend on a man, even if they don’t technically need to. Men and women simply change when they have children. A woman’s first instinct upon giving birth is to provide for her child physically and emotionally, whereas a man’s first instinct is to protect and to provide for that child.
A woman’s identity and sense of well-being is inextricably linked to her relationships, whereas a man’s identity and sense of well-being is inextricably linked to his paycheck. It stands to reason, then, that the sexes are happiest when they’re doing what they’re made to do. This approach to marriage swims with the tide, rather than against it.
That’s not to say no couple can successfully navigate a role reversal. It is only to say that it’s rare. Even in families in which both parents are employed, 70% consist of fathers who earn more than mothers.
Men and women aren’t interchangeable. They may both be capable of being breadwinners and caregivers, but that doesn’t mean they want to perform these tasks with equal fervor. And it doesn’t mean they’ll be happy if they do. That this does not hold true for every woman and every man doesn’t change the fact that what drives most women is different from what drives most men.
It’s time to stop pretending the culture is to blame for why modern marriages fail. Societal attitudes may have changed, but human nature hasn’t.
Perhaps it’s time we surrendered.
Suzanne Venker is an author, columnist and relationship coach known as The Feminist “Fixer.” A wife of 20 years and mother of two, Suzanne liberates women from the equality narrative and inspires them to feel secure in their femininity and courageous about finding lasting love. Suzanne’s most recent book, The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage, helps bossy women learn how to become better wives. You can find Suzanne at www.thefeministfixer.com.