Mad Men and the "mancession"

Mad Men and the “mancession”

Whenever I watch “Mad Men,” I’m struck by how strange it is to peek into an era when men dominated the workforce—especially now, in the midst of a recession that’s often called a “mancession,” since men are getting laid off left and right while some women are thriving as breadwinners.

Don Draper would be shocked by the stats. In 2007, 22 percent of women earned more than their men, up from 4 percent in 1970, according to the Pew Research Center. And that was before the recession, which has left 11 percent of men unemployed, compared to 8.5 percent of women.

Once you’re laid off, it’s tough to find work in this economy. Among the unemployed, 4 in 10 (6.1 million) people have been jobless for 27 weeks or more, by far the highest proportion of long-term unemployment on record, with data back to 1948. Some have been jobless for 99 weeks, and are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.

Faced with these setbacks, many men have had to take lower-paying jobs, get creative and change careers, or go back to school. Others have become first-time homemakers, caring for kids and chores while their wives go to work.

Surprisingly, many men enjoy the shift to stay-at-home dad. A survey by Career Builder showed 51 percent of married women would like to stay home with their kids—and so would 37 percent of men. Given that 75 percent of families have two working parents, who’s choosing to work and who’s resenting not being home?

In 2007, 22 percent of women earned more than their men, up from 4 percent in 1970.

Some argue that this change in the marital money dynamic could be just what we need. Sherrill St. Germain, a certified financial planner in New Hampshire, says several of her clients have embraced this shift with a fresh outlook. Recently, she met a couple where the wife had greater earning potential, so she went to work while her husband stayed home with the kids. This went on for several years—until she got burned out. Now, her husband’s back in the work force while she’s the homemaker. “It may turn out to be a good idea for couples to switch off,” St. Germain says.

How easy is the adjustment? It depends on whether partners are drawn to traditional roles or a more equal partnership. “The switch is probably a positive as long as nobody tries to take advantage of it,” St. Germain says. “You have to give up the notion that whoever brings home the bacon makes the decisions.”

Since the “Mad Men” era, couple roles have changed as fast as fashion trends. “Back in the day, if you showed up in a calf-length skirt when minis were in, forget it,” St. Germain recalls. “Now it’s more like pick the style that flatters you. And I think we may be starting to move that way with work and gender.”

Have the roles changed in your relationship? How have these changes affected your family?

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