The Health Effects of Role Reversal
Why the Health Repercussions?
Extensive coverage on national CNN and ABC News programs (to name only a couple) followed the publication of Dr. Stolzenberg’s findings. Comments made half in jest attribute husbands’ good health to their wives’ nagging. Titles such as the following are only a few of the widely publicized articles and media coverage that followed the publication of Stolzenberg’s study, starting a frenzy of finger-pointing:
- “When Wives Overwork, Husbands’ Health Declines”
- “Husbands Beware! Your Wife’s Job May be Hazardous to your Health!”
- “Behind Every Unhealthy Man There May Be An Overworked Woman”
Yet, before men pounce gleefully on these findings or women decide to hitch yet another ride on their overloaded guilt wagon—or worse yet, ditch satisfying jobs—the question is: Why does role reversal have such dramatic health consequences?
It is common knowledge that from early puberty onwards, women learn to care for their own bodies, be aware of their cycles and overall health, and enroll in exercise programs that promote health and fitness. In womanhood, this translates into an awareness of the “physical” and health symptoms that generally thrusts women into the health promotion role in the family. In most families, women also plan the family’s meals and snacks, and buy the groceries, thereby taking charge of the nutrition front. It therefore makes sense that when job demands pull a working woman away from her home for extensive hours, there are health repercussions to her husband and family. Those can be circumvented if men learn to care more effectively for their own and their children’s health, nutrition, sleep needs, and take more responsibility for their overall physical well-being.
Furthermore, women generally tend to be the instigators of social contact for the entire family—and which woman has the time, energy, or inclination to entertain or organize family activities after having worked a 45 to 60 work week? If men don’t participate in that aspect of a family’s life, it’s easy to lose sight of friends, the best anti-stress medicine ever prescribed!
Another aspect is the pressure society places on folks who wear non-traditional hats. In his article, “Confessions of a Househusband” (published on STUDS, the wonderfully-named Spouses Trailing Under Duress website), Patrick Marks writes, “Someone once said that a husband is what’s left out of the lover after the nerve has been extracted. This lover had to have his nerve put back to become a househusband.” There is no doubt that being the constant recipient of well-meaning (or other!) comments from people who don’t get the point of why someone’s not conforming to social norms generates stress. When role reversal is dictated by circumstance, not by choice and conviction, the ensuing stress can be harmful.
Dr. Eaker comments on the findings of the study released by the American Heart Association, with a conclusion that people who perform work or social roles incongruent with what is socially expected suffer greater heart disease and death. She states that men and women who are on . . . “the cutting edge of social norms experience negative health consequences.” Dr. Eaker hopes that the harmful effects of having jobs or social roles that are considered outside the norm will diminish as social roles and norms evolve.
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