Historically, men and women have worked side by side. Dating back thousands of years, humans sustained themselves via hunting and gathering. Typically, the men hunted while the woman and children gathered. Later in our evolution, farming became the main source of work and sustenance. Though farming required different skills, women, men and children still helped in the cultivation and management of crops and livestock. The last major change in our working evolution came during the industrial revolution. During this era, we moved from the farm to the factories. During this period, men and women saw the biggest divide in income and job opportunities. One of the biggest factors driving the divide was the need for upper body strength to operate large machinery. As women departed from the workforce, they took on more responsibilities of managing domestic life. With only one income per family, families relied heavily on the woman to not only raise the children but turn cheap, raw products such as fabrics and flour into food and clothes. So, while the job and skill of females were paramount, traditionally speaking, males were the only ones bringing in an income.
Since men spent a majority of their day working, they used their job as a way to build their sense of mastery, status, and esteem. Men also compared themselves to other men in terms of their salary, title, ability. As such, there were “winners and losers”. Not all men could be a CEO and thus feelings of superiority and inferiority between men became starker. No matter the title, however, in comparison to females, men still had the upper hand.
As the industrial revolution slowed, jobs that favored strength decreased in favor of the sciences, technology, and other human services. As strength became less valuable, along with other economic and social changes, women entered the workforce in high volume. Returning back to a system where the sexes worked side by side. Naturally, this created competition and stress on men to hold onto their self-esteem, particularly in comparison to females.
Though the single income model was brief in terms of our collective history, the negative effect can still be felt today. For instance, many men won’t take certain jobs (inside or outside the home) because they associate them as “female”. During times of unemployment, many men feel inferior and ashamed. Those with a “low-status job” or who make less than their female partners are susceptible to feeling inferior and unmanly. Since many men rely on their income as a way to support their identity as a caretaker, making less than their partner strips them of that role.
While employment can play an important role in supporting males’ self-esteem, purpose, and care-taking responsibilities, it’s equally important for men to find additional ways to fill those needs outside of traditional work. Partaking in household duties such as childcare, cooking, and cleaning, are important roles that should not be minimized. Understanding your strengths as a person and leaning into them are also helpful ways to support your esteem and worth, particularly during times of economic recession. These strengths can include humor, decision-making abilities, intellect, loyalty, athleticism, or emotional support. The change back to co-income households is a challenge for many men but may also create an opportunity for them to learn new skills and play multiple roles.