After decades in which women have borne a disproportionate burden of unhappiness owing to a lack of opportunities outside the home, poor economic prospects and the pressures of running a family, the scales are about to be tipped in their favour. Men are the ones who face a "depressing future", researchers say.
The social and economic revolution sweeping the West, which is altering traditional male and female roles, has been accelerated by the recession because of its impact on male jobs, the scientists say.
Western economies are undergoing a "profound restructuring", dubbed the "mancession", as jobs in manufacturing or involving physical labour that have traditionally been the preserve of men are increasingly being outsourced to low and middle-income nations or made obsolete by advances in technology. About three-quarters of jobs lost in the US since the start of the recession in 2007 were held by men, the researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia say. In the UK, figures show 80 per cent of the jobs lost were held by men.
Increasing numbers of women are outstripping their husbands in terms of earning power and becoming their family's chief breadwinner. In 2007, about 22 per cent of wives earned more than their husbands, compared with just 4 per cent in 1970.
Women are 25 per cent more likely to attend university than men in England, and university graduates are substantially less likely to be unemployed. In the coming decades, men's self-esteem, especially among those with lower levels of education, is likely to suffer as they progressively lose the role of protector and provider for their families.
Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Boadie Dunlop and Tanja Mletzko of the mood and anxiety disorders programme at Emory University, say that traditionally, women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer serious depression during their lifetime but this "may well change in the coming decades". Women may be better able to adjust to a work role than men to a domestic role.
Although many men excel in domestic roles already, on average they may find it more of a challenge. The researchers say women are better adapted to child rearing, being more empathetic and more sensitive to the signals that children send out.
The authors write: "Even if men's relative weakness in domestic arenas arises not from biology but solely from different socialisation patterns, then men in the changing economy will still face the same risks from depression that women faced in older economies – trapped in a family role from which they cannot escape because of an inability to find paid employment."Reuse content