Economic Woes Threaten Male Identity

No one likes today's economy, but men apparently dislike it more than women, and more than they did last fall, researchers find. And it's stressing them out.

An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association in early April among 2,160 U.S. adults found that the percentage of men ages 45 to 54 reporting stress related to money rose from 78 percent in September 2008 to 86 percent in April 2009.

Younger men feel the stress a bit more than the middle-aged men: Among 35- to 44-year-olds, 88 percent of men reported money as a significant stressor. The figure for women in that age group was 77 percent.

And a total of 71 percent of males in this age group reported job stability as a significant stressor in April 2009, compared with 57 percent last September.

Daniel Kruger, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, says economic pain is felt more intensely by men than it is by women, because males are more sensitive to social hierarchies.

And with more men being laid off than women in recent months, men's family provider identities are threatened.

"Men are expected to play the role of economic provider and those who do not meet this societal norm may be seen as a failure," he said. "The stress of perceiving this reaction from family and community members may be especially powerful."

Many people still tend to find it strange when men stay home to take care of children, while wives go off to bring home the bacon.

"Rather than being embraced as a gender equalizer, the lone man in parenting groups will often get the cold shoulder because he is seen as an interloper," Kruger said.

In the future, families will become even more flexible with parenting responsibilities, Kruger predicts, "but I doubt that we will ever see a reversal or even equalization of gender roles."

Men still are more willing than women to sacrifice time with their families in order to advance their careers, he said.

Still, the extended family, with aunts, uncles, and grandparents around, might make a comeback over the nuclear family (just parents and children). The latter unit has prevailed in the past century in Western cultures.

"Economic contractions may increase the prevalence of extended families that consolidate resources into one household, and fathers may expand their role as caretakers for their parents and/or in-laws, as well as children," he said.

Each week in Dollars & $cience, Robin Lloyd makes sense of the financial world and explores the latest findings that hit you in the wallet.