The voice of men has been noticeably absent from the debate on work-life balance and the new economic realities of families.
While women struggle with their traditional role as the “homemaker” and the emotional and financial consequences of choosing this role, men also struggle with their traditional role as “providers”. In many ways, fatherhood has changed beyond recognition in recent decades (see The Masculine Mystique by Stephen Marche). Marche writes: “the days of Dad working all week and then, having fulfilled his duties, going to play two or three rounds of golf on the weekend are long gone.” Instead, husbands are often expected to be fully involved in raising the children and housework, while simultaneously remaining the main financial provider. By taking on the role as the financial provider during the marriage, upon marriage breakdown, husbands have unwittingly put themselves in a position to continue this role whether they want to or not.
The continued role of the providing spouse is usually through child and spousal support, which can last many years after the relationship breaks down. As a general guideline, the duration of spousal support is the greater of the number of years it would take the youngest child to graduate from high school or ½ a year to a full year for each year of a marriage-like relationship. The quantum of spousal support is usually determined by looking at the income disparity between spouses at relationship breakdown, with the goal being to ensure each household has roughly the same standard of living.
Child support is based solely on the non-custodial parent’s income, provided the children live over 40% of the time with the primary parent. Child support can continue until the child is no longer dependent on a parent because of either a disability or the child is attending a post-secondary institution full time.
Upon relationship breakdown, the provider spouse may have to pay spousal support and, if the children reside with the other spouse most of the time, may also pay child support. Spousal support and child support can, in some circumstances, make up to 50% of the provider’s net disposal income per month.
Today, it is common for a husband to play a larger role in the family than previous generations. At the same time, however, husbands may also be expected to fill the role as the primary financial provider. The ability of a woman to contemplate whether to “work or not to work” is only possible if their spouse continues to work. At the end of the day, all families need to put food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their head. Somebody has to earn an income to make that happen.
It may still be quite difficult for men to break out of their traditional role as the financial provider given paternity leave is still not mainstream and women remain viewed as the primary caregiver of the children. Many women, in fact, covet the title of the primary caregiver and may even expect their partner to work, giving them the choice to either work or stay home.
Until both women and men can shed the expectations of traditional gender roles, the new freedoms and choices starting to emerge for families will remain the exception, not the norm, causing historical gender roles to persist.