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June 7, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This article (New Zealand Herald, 6/4/15) is so bad that the same publication ran this piece one day later advising readers to “ignore” it (New Zealand Herald, 6/5/15). And that, my friends is a pretty bad article. Unsurprisingly, it’s based on one or two badly done studies.

The first article is headlined “Beware the ‘Stray-at-Home Dad.” Its points are (a) a study by a researcher at the University of Connecticut finds that men who are primary caregivers to children are “more likely” to have an extra-marital affair, (b) stay-at-home dads are “hard-wired” to “stray,” (c) in the ensuing divorce, the dads get the kids which (d) “punishes” Mom for being the breadwinner.

Now, this is an article the comments to which are, as a group, far more informed than the article itself. And when that’s the case, you know the article is badly deficient, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

So, for example, taking off from an anecdote about a woman named Janet Dee, the article brings in the U of C study.

Her experience sadly chimes with the findings of a new study of more than 2,750 young married people by the University of Connecticut, which showed that men who are financially dependent on their spouses are the most likely to be unfaithful. In fact, the bigger the earning gap, the more likely they are to have an affair, with those who rely solely on their wives for their income the biggest cheats. In contrast, bread-winning women in such marriages are least likely to stray.

"Infidelity may be a way of re-establishing threatened masculinity," suggested lead researcher, Prof Christin Munsch. "Simultaneously, infidelity allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their higher-earning spouses."

Of course what the article doesn’t say is whether this is actually a problem. So, if 15% of married men cheat on their wives, what’s the number for SAHDs? If it’s 16%, then there’s not a problem; if it’s 47% then there is. All the article tells us is that the study found SAHDs to be more likely than others to have affairs. Without a baseline, the study is essentially meaningless.

And, as many researchers have concluded, establishing that baseline is difficult, a fact that’s reflected in the wide range of findings by studies seeking to establish rates of infidelity. The ones I’ve seen range from 15% — 25% for men and from 15% to 22% for women.

From the merely dubious, the article plunges on to the almost certainly false.

But the idea of the put-upon house husband is not one bought by Dr Helen Fisher, human behaviour researcher and author of Why Him? Why Her?

"The type of man who chooses to stay at home is biologically wired to have an affair," she says.

"He will, most likely, be an entrepreneurial type who registers high on the dopamine scale. Dopamine is associated with spontaneity, unpredictable behaviour and addiction. Give this type of man time on their hands and ... you get a man who strays."

Those statements are almost too general and to conclusory to even parse. Is there a single study demonstrating increased levels of dopamine in people who cheat, men who cheat, SAHDs who cheat? If so, Fisher doesn’t mention it. How might people be tested for their levels of dopamine? After all, dopamine in the circulatory system has nothing to do with the type of neurological functioning Fisher is talking about. So to test a person’s dopamine level and then correlate it with extramarital sexual affairs, one would have to measure it in the neurons. I strongly doubt that type of testing has been done. And of course the fact that “dopamine is associated with” certain behaviors means little or nothing. I mean, so is regular tooth brushing, or at least so I imagine. And that of course is all the more true since none of the behaviors with which dopamine, according to Fisher, is associated is a tendency to cheat. Therefore, it must be an association to yet another association. So what Fisher’s constructed is a theory in search of some facts. It’s not obvious she’s found any.

That all brings us up to one of the article’s main points — that, unfairly, women who work to support their SAHDs and kids are done wrong by a court system that — horror of horrors — treats them like men.

Janet certainly feels her punishment was unduly harsh. Although Paul broke their marriage contract, as he was also the main caregiver and she was seen as the breadwinner who was rarely at home, she lost everything.

"He took the house, half my pension, half my salary — and, what's worse, the children," she says.

She now lives in a two-bedroom rental property in the "wrong" side of her town while Paul has the former family home for her three children — plus his girlfriend and her brood.

"I live no more than 10 minutes away, but emotionally, we're a million miles apart," says Janet. "My eldest is 12 and she barely comes to see me any more. I don't feel like a proper mum."

Welcome, Janet, to the world of virtually every divorced father ever. It’s interesting how the concept of gender equality occurs neither to Janet nor to the writer of the article, Lucy Cavendish. Indeed, if anything, the phenomenon of the breadwinner mother losing custody to a stay-at-home dad is likely only to become more common. After all, for three decades, more women have graduated from college than have men. That means they’re prepared at least to be the major earners. And if they become that, then they may as well get used to being the ones to wear the shoe that’s crippled so many fathers.

Exactly what Janet bemoans — the loss of the kids, the house, the pension, the child support, the alimony — has been complained about by countless fathers, with more arriving daily. For many, the concept of equality between the sexes has always been a one-way street. For them, women’s lives are supposed to only get better, with greater rights and privileges, but without the obligations and detriments that go along with the male role. That mothers who take on the typical male role may in turn be treated like fathers in divorce court comes to those people as a big surprise. Janet Dee is obviously one of them.

That of course may be the good news.

For many, many years, fathers have been telling anyone who would listen that they wanted meaningful relationships with their children even when their wives divorced them. They’ve been reporting the increasing mass of social science that demonstrates that children are better off with two parents in their lives than just one. They’ve been pointing out that fathers and mothers both would see their lives improve if they saw their kids regularly. They’ve been explaining the countless social detriments of single-parenthood, like poorer education, greater drug and alcohol abuse, increased crime, emotional problems and the like. They’ve been saying that earning the family’s daily bread is as important an aspect of parenting as changing diapers and singing to sleep. They’ve been talking about gender equality, fairness and justice.

Mostly in vain. The years pass and legislatures ignore what’s obvious, fair and beneficial for all. The number of jurisdictions in the whole world that take equal parenting seriously is vanishingly small. A lot of people have been asking just what it takes for legislative bodies and judges to do what truly needs to be done.

Maybe the answer is for women to wear that painful shoe. Maybe the increase in maternal breadwinning will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Maybe those legislatures will finally do for working mothers what they refuse to do for working fathers.

Maybe.

As I’ve said many times before, in spite of all the claims that we live in a brave new world of gender interchangeability, the fact is that the great majority of people haven’t received the memo. More accurately, they’ve received it, but chosen to ignore it. In truth, with some exceptions, men and women both strongly tend to take on typical male-female roles, with Dad earning the lion’s share of the family income and Mom doing most of the childcare. Face it, those roles have been with us (and our evolutionary forebears) for literally millions of years. Among hominids, females strongly prefer males who are good at resource gathering and at protecting the family. Males prefer females who look like good bearers of and carers for children. It’s amazing how much of our behavior can be explained by good old social biology.

In short, what we say we’re doing — i.e. altering those age-old sex roles — may or may not be true. By the mid-19th century, enough conditions had changed and they’d changed enough, to give us the idea that we could begin to abandon those roles. But that’s proving harder to do than many would like to admit.

Whatever the case, human fathers have always been caregivers to children and human children have always done better with two parents involved in their lives. So whoever does the hands-on parenting and whoever brings home the bacon, family law needs to be reformed so that children don’t lose one parent when the adults split up. Janet Dee is no more being punished for having a career than millions of fathers have been. She’s just on the receiving end of laws and court practices that have nothing to do with their stated goal — children’s welfare.

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