Nontraditional male: Men with primary childcare/household responsibilities
Shirley Miller Rosenwasser and William Patterson (Southwest Texas State University), 1986, Psychology and Human Development, 1(2), 101–112

This article caught my eye as I was editing it in preparation for our 45th anniversary celebration, because I was in the final trimester of pregnancy at the time and planning for childcare was at the forefront of my mind. In 1986, when this study was published in our sister journal Psychology and Human Development, the idea of men being primary caregivers in the family was still fairly new. Although the authors reported finding in the literature that husbands with working wives helped more around the home compared to husbands of wives who did not work outside the home, the increase was marginal and “women still carry the major burden of childcare/household responsibilities” (p. 101). As such, I was interested to see if attitudes toward this arrangement might have changed in the intervening 30 years. 

Miller Rosenwasser and Patterson interviewed a group of “nontraditional” men who were responsible for at least 50% of the work involved in childcare and household upkeep, and whose wives worked outside the home. Most of the men had had mothers who worked outside the home when they were growing up, although none of their fathers had been the primary caregiver. The authors’ aim was to determine if factors like sex role (masculine, feminine, androgynous, undifferentiated) influenced the men’s willingness to increase their contribution to household/childcare activities. 

Around one-third of the nontraditional men were sex-typed as androgynous, another third of the sample was classified as masculine, three were undifferentiated, and one was sex-typed as feminine, based on their scores on the Bem Sex-Role Inventory. Further, higher scores for masculinity were associated with the men holding the main responsibility for childcare/housework for a longer period of time. The percentage of men who were sex-typed as androgynous (36%) was much higher than the 4% reported in earlier studies on sex-typing that the authors reviewed, which they speculate may have contributed to the men’s willingness to assume responsibility for childcare and housework. 

In contrast to the stereotypical perception in a capitalistic society of housespouses, the decision of the men in this study to take on the larger share of childcare and household maintenance was met with positive feedback from wives, parents, parents-in-law, and male peers. Further, all but one of the nontraditional men “indicated that they would recommend their lifestyle to others” (p. 107), and, when asked to estimate their happiness, the average score was an 8 out of 10.

The authors conclude their study by stating that the ultimate goal in dividing up childcare, careers, and household labor, would be for both men and women “to be free to choose without stigma to have careers, to combine careers and families, or to invest their energies primarily in their home and families” (p. 107). I heartily concur!!

Sarah Krivan | Project Manager
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal