Middle Class Privilege

Let me clear from the onset. I am not attempting to discount the notion of white privilege which has become a foundational principle of the Black Lives Matter movement. I know it exists but it is far too simplistic to attribute racial and economic inequality solely to white privilege.  The dictionary definition of privilege is, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor .”  Considering the trajectory of my life and that of my older sibling the peculiar benefit or advantage that we had was not about being white but being raised in a home with a value structure that is commonly referred to as middle class values.   

All four of our grandparents and our father were immigrants who arrived in the US with nothing but their ambition and the clothes on their backs.  Our grandparents got by, raised their children but did not pass on any wealth or property to their offspring. Their legacy was middle class values. Those values that were instilled and modeled included a two parent family. We had a mother and a father who were always present in our lives and basically got along with each other.  Mom was a stay at home mom until our teen years and Dad went to work every day trying to earn enough to support his family. We lived modestly in rented apartments with my sister and I sharing a bedroom until she got married. The first apartment I lived in until I was seven years old had one bedroom which I shared with my sister while my parents slept on a pull-out in the living room.  Getting a good education was the mantra that we constantly heard.  Despite the fact that neither of our parents attended college, going to college was instilled as a basic requirement to secure our future. We were made keenly aware that education was the springboard to success no matter what career we intended to pursue.  There were books in the house that our parents read and our school grades were carefully monitored.   Mom became active in the PTA and one year was elected  president of our elementary school PTA.  

Structure was an essential value for Mom.  We ate dinner at the same time every evening, often without Dad who worked later than Mom’s definition of when children should have their dinner.  TV time was limited and bedtimes were enforced.  Dad, who worked six days a week, insisted that Sunday was family day and up to our teen years we did something together as a family almost every Sunday. We were assigned household chores and did them with little complaint. We were expected to save money, a modest allowance and earnings when we were old enough to find jobs in the neighborhood.  When I wanted a new bike my father decided that I should pay for half the cost of the bike from my savings.  Religious studies for both of us was required up to the age of 13 and then it was left to our own choosing.  Discipline was rarely physical and we were permitted to at least plead our case before consequences were determined. I do not want to give the impression that I was a perfect child.  A few times I shoplifted toy soldiers from the local Woolworths, started smoking at 15, and I constantly stretched the boundaries my parents set in my desire for freedom and independence.   However, there was always that little voice that would keep me from doing anything really stupid.  The voice said don’t disappoint your parents or risk your future.  The voice and good luck in not getting caught got me through my adolescent rebellion without any long lasting damage.

Our parents did not have enough income to save for college tuition.  Therefore, the only choice we had was to live at home and attend a branch of the New York City University System where tuition was free.   High school grades combined with SAT scores determined which college you could attend.  If we did not choose to attend college full time we were told we could remain living at home as long as we had a job and attended night school.   

Eventually my sister and I both earned doctorate degrees and achieved some degree of professional success.  I attribute much of our resilience and achievement as a product of middle class values not white privilege.  We were not unique. In addition to friends with similar stories to our own Colin Powell’s story comes to mind.  Colin, an African -American, had an equivalent pathway to success. Powell’s parents were immigrants and he lived in an apartment in the south Bronx and attended public schools graduating from CCNY, my alma mater, before embarking on his military and political  career.  Powell’s upbringing was reflective of middle class values obviously not of white privilege.

Unfortunately, the black pride movement of the 60’s labeled middle class values as white values therefore disparaging some of the fundamental values that regardless of race or socio-economic status are essential to achieve a productive and fulfilling lifestyle.  We hear stories of Black students putting down high academic achieving peers ascribing their behavior  to acting white.  The message that taking education seriously is somehow a betrayal of Black culture.  Maybe if we rename middle class values and call them values for success it would gain less resistance.

It is not difficult to summarize values for success. They include a reasonably stable and supportive family life, an appreciation and reinforcement of the value of education, the ability to defer gratification and work hard toward long range goals, spiritual exploration, financial literacy and a belief in one’s ability to succeed. 

I am not naive.  I understand that poverty and discrimination breeds  hopelessness which kills ambition and the motivation to sacrifice, plan for a future and defer gratification.  Free tuition has gone and hopefully will make a comeback at least on the community college level, affording availability and success to those that persevere.  I also know that wealth alone is clearly not a unique path to practicing success values.  There are numerous examples of people of means not living success values.  The recent college admission scandal orchestrated by the super rich highlighted how people of considerable means feel they can cheat and model to their children immoral behavior.  However,  those individuals, other than elite athletes and celebrities, who do break the cycle of poverty do so by adopting success values. The difficult message that needs to emerge from the Black Lives Matter movement is that much needed structural change in eliminating the scourge of racism is not sufficient.  The Black community must also look inward and foster and encourage the success values that will help create the just society that we desperately need. 

Best of Masculinity

I often scan the media for stories highlighting the best of masculinity.  Meaning, men taking action that benefits others and that relies upon masculine energy.  A story from CBS News that has wider implications got my attention.

Apparently, Louisiana fathers are taking matters into their own hands after repeated violence broke out in one school, where 23 students were arrested over just a three-day period. 

“We’re dads. We decided the best people who can take care of our kids are who? Are us,” father Michael LaFitte told CBS News. LaFitte launched a group called Dads on Duty, sparking 40 fathers to sign up and take shifts at Southwood High School in Shreveport to maintain a peaceful environment.  It was noted in the story that there have been no instances of violence since Dads on Duty launched in September, and some students said their presence has helped the environment at the school. 

I was not surprised by the report’s outcome. Adolescent males respond favorably to the presence of adult men especially regarding the degree they take risks and act aggressively.  This is especially important for boys who are not fathered. Growing up to be a responsible man who expresses his masculinity in the light does not come naturally.  It has to be taught and modeled by the adult men in his world.   An involved father is best but an adult male – relative, coach, teacher, family friend – who is present in the adolescent’s life can be an adequate father figure.

Single moms regardless of what choices or circumstances that have lead them to raise their children without a father should pay particular attention to seeking a male role model to interact with their children. This is especially important for their boys during adolescences when they are most at risk for impulsivity and violence.   

Men & Suicide

I came across a  new report on U.S. military deaths that contains a stark statistic: An estimated 7,057 service members have died during military operations since 9/11, while suicides among active duty personnel and veterans of those conflicts have reached 30,177 — that’s more than four times as many.  There is some debate whether or not the rate of military suicides is greater than the population at large especially when controlling for age and gender.  However, the simple fact is that the suicide rate for both military personnel and non-military are increasing – especially for men.  In a previous blog, “Men at Risk”  I discovered  that suicide deaths per 100K for men is 31 and for women 9.8 (45-65) and 32.5 for men to 5.2 for women (65+).

The military has attributed the alarming suicide rate to the fear and stress that is different in the post 9/11 era. Terrorists utilizing tactics such as suicide bombers, and IED’s coupled with multiple deployments are risk factors for military personnel.   I’m certain that fear and stress are factors for precipitating suicide but fear and stress are not unique to just military and veterans.

What is happening in our current society that causes fear, stress and loneliness that accounts for the alarming suicide rate among men.   One factor that comes to mind is the changes in heavy industry caused by automation and globalization.  Many skilled male factory workers making a middle class wage lost their jobs and could only find employment at on or near minimum wage level.  The stress of not being able to provide for their families coupled with the blow to self esteem by becoming a low wage earner has certainly led to the massive increase in suicide, drug use and overdose for middle aged men.  

Depression, the gateway to suicide, is experienced at roughly equal rates between men and women.   However, women do a better job of seeking help than men.  Apparently, the notion that it is unmanly to seek mental health help among older men is still present.  Instead of acknowledging their depression and seeking help men who are  depressed often turn to self medication with drugs and the hopelessness that precedes a suicide attempt. Like any complex issue there is no simple solution to the alarming rate of suicides. 

However, there are things that can be done.  It is clear that insufficient attention has been paid by our government to the loss of decent wage factory jobs.   There is a lack of funding for re-training and making mental health treatment more user friendly for men.   On the community level we need more peer driven Men’s Groups.  I know, after 25 years of men’s work, how men can better deal with life’s challenges in the group setting.  Those of us who have participated in a men’s group are astonished that more men are not seeking and forming men’s groups.  Is there insufficient media attention to the benefits of the groups?  Do men and women hold onto the stereotype that a men’s group is just a place for men to get drunk and trash women?  It is clear that those of us who do benefit from men’s work need to do a better job of letting our communities know the benefits of the group experience.   Also, institutions that men seek out, like the Veteran’s Administration, need to encourage the formation of peer led men’s groups that are not just the traditional self help groups like AA & NA or with a mental health diagnosis.   I am convinced that greater participation in a men’s work will be an important factor in combating depression and suicide.

Men & College

It looks like some folks at the Wall Street Journal and CNN have recently woken up about the differences between men and women enrolling in college.  If my memory serves, I have been writing about this issue and its implications for society for some time.  Maybe it’s time for the enrollment disparity – 60% women to 40% men –  discussion  to be raised to a higher priority in terms of social and economic policy. 

“It’s a crazy cycle,” said Adrian Huerta, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who focuses on college access and gender. “We know that when you have a college education, there are good outcomes with health. You’re more likely to live longer. It matters for employment stability and civic engagement. You’re less likely to rely on social services.”

There have been changes in some parts of the workforce.  What were traditionally college/professional level blue jobs (mostly men) like lawyers, clinical psychologists, doctors, dentists have attracted more and more women.  However, college level professional pink jobs (mostly women) like nurses, social workers, teachers still do not attract men in any significant manner.

What is it about earning a college degree that is a turn off for so many young men?  The answer does not appear to be in the trades.  Many of them are not turning to the trades as an alternative to college.  There is a nationwide shortage of workers in the trades which tend to attract far more men than women. The reality is that those men and women who choose to attend a vocational program and learn a trade will in at least in the short term earn a decent wage.

It is clear that social pressure has pushed workers away from trades. Spenser Villwock, interim CEO of Independent Electrical Contractors, a national trade association, says social pressure for college to the exclusion of all else created a disincentive for new workers. “The message became that you need to have a college degree or you’re a lesser individual,” he says. “We aren’t exposing people to these opportunities, and the funding model in public schools supports college-or-bust.”

The evidence seems to indicate that women continue to make gains in a variety of good paying professional type jobs that require at least a Bachelor’s Degree yet continue to shun occupations requiring manual labor even when those jobs offer far better pay than non-college women currently earn.    Simultaneously, a cohort of young men are not pursuing college or training in the trades.   Is the increases in domestic violence, suicide and drug overdose a result of the men who are left behind without a degree or a marketable skill above a minimum wage job? 

We need re-messaging about the alternatives to attending college.  The focus should be on post high school training which includes college as well as non-degree training programs.   Expanding apprenticeships along with high school guidance counselors and curriculum that exposes students to a greater variety of career choices would help.  The reality is that the employment marketplace we are in now and the future skills rather than a generalist college degree are the most important factor in earning a good living.  

Blogger Returns

It has been awhile since my last blog. I will explain my absence.  After collapsing in pain in an acupuncturist’s office waiting room, where I was seeking help for a back issue, the receptionist called 911 and I was taken to a local hospital emergency room. After tests and scans a thoracic surgeon told my wife, “if I don’t operate right away he will die.” Not much of a choice considering she was not yet eager to get rid of me.  Seven hours later, after replacement of a piece of my aorta with Dacron, I was still alive.

Six weeks have passed and since I am blogging again I’m obviously still alive and fortunately have a decent prognosis for survival. I am home receiving physical therapy and able to use a walker for short distances. I take a lot of pills and am able to take care of my basic needs around the house.

What have I learned, especially within the framework of masculinity, is the operative question?   I cry a lot, not out of self pity but more for gratitude of being alive with such a supportive, loving wife and children.  Attempting to preserve a sense of self while needing others, particularly strangers, to monitor ones basic needs has been a tremendous challenge.  In the hospital it took four strong aides to move me from bed to chair. At rehab they needed a mechanical lift to do the same. Of course, since I could not get up by myself I urinated in a plastic container. often spilling its contents, and just defecated in place which required two underpaid and indifferent female aides to clean me up.  I closed my eyes, let them do their thing, and separated my mind from my body as best as I could. 

I attempted to deal with my new reality in the light of masculinity.  I did not dismiss or stuff my strong emotions.  I did and do experience fear, depression and helplessness but for the most part I have accepted those feelings to be present without allowing them to control my behavior.  My wife and kids didn’t need to see a sniveling and hopeless shell of his former self while visiting in the rehab facility or while talking to me on the phone.   Drawing on my king archetype I set my goals as trying to make each day being better than the previous one.  That way any progress I made in therapy would be empirically empowering.  My warrior archetype did the work and continues to provide the energy to become more functional.  My lover has accepted the care and devotion of my wife, family and the good wishes o f friends who I have connected with over a lifetime.   Of course the magician is always present figuring out how to navigate the everyday as efficiently as possible.

Each of us must find a way to deal with adversity and the challenges that await.  For me,  I know that  they can be met by me living in and drawing upon what I consider the best of being a man.

Men At Risk

Let me begin with some startling data:

Suicide deaths per 100K for men is 31 and for women 9.8 (45-65) and 32.5 for men to 5.2 for women (65+).

 – Drug overdoses among men have historically outnumbered those among women by a large margin.

– In 2019 69% of deaths from drug overdoses were men,

– Men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs, and illicit drug use is more likely to result in emergency department visits or overdose deaths for men than for women.

–  The New York Times reported on a city traffic study that revealed four of every five serious or fatal vehicle/pedestrian accidents in New York City were caused by male drivers.

– Traffic studies from around the world have consistently shown higher accident rates among men,

 – Studies also show that male pedestrians are more likely to be hit by a car.

 – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said about 80% of people who die from drowning are male.

 –  According to a recent study by Consumer Products Safety Commission, boys are especially at risk of drowning at twice the rate of girls – 68 percent vs. 32 percent. Boys are also more likely than girls to be hospitalized for nonfatal drowning incidents.

The reflex answer to explain this data is that males, regardless of age, are more likely to take risks than females.  That’s not to say that there aren’t risk takers and adrenaline junkies among the female population but they are just not as prevalent as their male counterparts.  Research provides ample evidence that testosterone is the culprit for the excessive risk taking among men. This is especially true for adolescent males between 14 and 17 who are experiencing their hormonal surge without the inhibiting mechanism of a fully formed prefrontal cortex.

 However, I believe the explanation is more complex than just a male hormone.  For example, when delving into the research on drowning, part of the explanation for the preponderance of male fatalities was men trying to be heroes by jumping into unsafe waters to rescue someone who appeared to be drowning.  The takeaway is that the male energy to be heroic – to protect –  was as much a motivator  to jump as risk taking.  

Excessive deaths among men as a result of substance abuse is also more than male risk taking.  Granted, that especially for younger men, seeking a high while disregarding the potential danger is linked to risk taking.   However, men in later life seem to drift towards drugs more for relief rather than for the thrill of a high.  Unemployment, divorce and depression can often result in seeking escape in controlled substances, or in the extreme, escape to suicide.  With the scandalous over prescribing of opioids, and the arrival of fentanyl in the street drug scene, addiction has become increasingly deadly.  Certainly women are also affected by societal and personal pressures and look to seek relief from drugs.  But in general women do pay more attention to their overall health and especially to their mental health.  Furthermore, women tend to have stronger social bonds than men, especially in  the later years of life, which builds the resilience needed to fend off the pressures and disappointments that life brings. 

The bottom line is that if we just focus on the simple answer to excessive male mortality that men are prone to take risks we are essentially saying that there is nothing we can do about it and just accept the inevitable.  When we dig deeper, and understand the positive aspect of male energy – to protect- and the dark side of manliness – to suppress vulnerability – and help men live in the best of masculinity maybe we can find ways to better channel the positive and give men the tools to increase their emotional resilience and enhance their lives.  

Sheep or Wolf

Here comes another revenge thriller following in the footsteps of Fight Club, John Wick and the multitude of Liam Neeson revenge movies.  Actor Bob Odenkirk  plays a a meek, middle-aged dad who doesn’t fight back when robbers invade his home. Everyone thinks he is a total wuss: the police, the neighbors, even his own family. But then he does fight back, rampaging through a succession of gleefully violent fight scenes until there’s barely an anonymous Russian mobster left walking.  His character states, “There’s a long-dormant piece of me that’s now awake.” He is living his best life. His family respects him. His wife finds him attractive again. He’s found his real man masculinity.

The implication is often that behind the characters’ meek, civilized exteriors, these men  are mighty warriors who have been tamed into lives of careerist conformity and domestic subservience.  And reverting back to base instinct feels really good. The question is always whether these movies serve as a warning against such impulsive, often fascistic forms of violence, or whether they inspire them. Looking at the current climate of “toxic masculinity” – misogynistic online abuse, sexual misconduct and violence one would hardly surmise that what the world needs now is more old-school manliness.

One rationale for these films is that the artfully orchestrated ultra violence is somehow cathartic. thereby providing a useful function.  One can also argue that exposure to ultra violence and the status that the perpetrators of it receive might actually provoke violent behavior.  Then again, it’s a pretty reductive view of masculinity that says you’re either a castrated loser or a rampaging warrior, a sheep or a wolf.  Rather than this binary distinction, a better way of framing the issue is derived from the warrior archetype of masculinity.  The warrior, that part of our masculinity linked to taking action, can be expressed either in the light or the shadow.  The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates. 

                        Light ( I do)  – change agent, protector, disciplined, assertive, leader

                        Shadow (I take) – seeks violence and uses aggression as primary strategy,                                       sadistic, bully

The takeaway is that we can harness our warrior in the light and feel validated as a man without resorting to ultra violence to achieve our goals.   If we go back to the revenge thriller type movies they would not achieve much success at the box office if the heroes used their warrior energy in the light and  sought justice by working with law enforcement to rescue love ones and to arrest the bad guys.  The revenge thrillers will not go away.  However, more emphasis on fictional characters that exhibit their manliness – especially their warrior – in the light would provide better role models for young men to aspire to. 

Fathers Day Redux

Full disclosure –  much of what follows has been blogged my me on numerous occasions.   However, since Father’s Day is upon us I find it necessary and important to once again highlight the importance of a father beyond being a sperm provider.

I will start with a summary of the 10 facts of father engagement::

  1. Fathers and infants can be equally as attached as mothers and infants. When both parents are involved with the child, infants are attached to both parents from the beginning of life.
  2. Father involvement is related to positive child health outcomes in infants, such as improved weight gain in preterm infants and improved breastfeeding rates.
  3. Father involvement using authoritative parenting (loving and with clear boundaries and expectations) leads to better emotional, academic, social, and behavioral outcomes for children.
  4. Children who feel a closeness to their father are: twice as likely as those who do not to enter college or find stable employment after high school, 75% less likely to have a teen birth, 80% less likely to spend time in jail, and half as likely to experience multiple depression symptoms.
  5. Fathers occupy a critical role in child development. Father absence hinders development from early infancy through childhood and into adulthood. The psychological harm of father absence experienced during childhood persists throughout the life course.
  6. The quality of the father-child relationship matters more than the specific amount of hours spent together. Non-resident fathers who are involved with their children can have positive effects on children’s social and emotional well-being, as well as academic achievement and behavioral adjustment.
  7. High levels of father involvement are correlated with higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control in children. Children with involved fathers are less likely to act out in school or engage in risky behaviors in adolescence.
  8. Children with actively involved fathers are: 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade than those without engaged dads.
  9. Father engagement reduces the frequency of behavioral problems in boys while also decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low-income families. Father engagement reduces psychological problems and rates of depression in young women.

This one  reminded me of the well documented story about teenage male elephants and the destruction they caused when separated from their families.  South African authorities attempted to remove elephants from an overcrowded game reserve to a newly formed reserve.  Mistakenly, they only moved adolescent elephants thereby removing them from their natural social networks. The result was that the male adolescents attacked and killed young rhinos and destroyed nearby farmland in the newly formed preserve. The female adolescents did not exhibit this behavior.  The explanation for the disparity in gender behavior was that the males were experiencing  premature testosterone surges that accounted for their delinquency.  Several adult male elephants were then brought to the new reserve and their presence and intervention quickly calmed the adolescents and restored order.  The takeaway was male adolescents, whether elephant or human, benefit from having an adult male in their lives.  The adult male helps the adolescents better cope with the heightened aggression and risk taking that is characteristic of the adolescent male.

10. Overall, the impact that fathers and father figures can make is substantial. Just as there are many positive aspects to father involvement, the effects of father absence can be detrimental as well.

As more and more children are raised without fathers present, either by choice or circumstance, the loss of father engagement will further exacerbate the difficulties for children growing up without fathers.  Somehow we need to get the message out to our teens and Millennials that as they grow into full adulthood that bringing babies into this world without a father present creates the potential for the negative effects of a lack of father engagement.   

Are Men Asleep in Their Marriage?

As we look for insight on why women are often the ones seeking to dissolve a marriage let’s begin with the data.  Numerous studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women?  – this is according to a 2015 research study conducted by the American Sociological Association (ASA) which suggests two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. Among college-educated women, this number jumps up to 90%.

What are the gender differences in how men and women appraise the health of their marriage? Do women have a higher standard in appraising the health of their marriage?  

My research revealed three possible factors why women initiate divorce:

1 – Women are more likely to feel held back by the marriage.

The fact is that today, women are working more than they ever have and make up a little over half of the workforce in the United States. However, in many marriages women are still seen as primarily responsible for domestic duties. Despite having more on their plates with their careers.

Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and author of the ASA study stated, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare.”

What’s more is that other studies have shown that when both parties in a marriage are employed full-time, the woman in the relationship still does more housework than men in the relationship.

A 2019 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that on an average day in 2018, 20 percent of men did housework—such as cleaning or laundry—compared with 49 percent of women. What this tells us is that there is inequality in the average household when it comes to domestic duties and labor among men and women. For married parties who have at least similar responsibilities from a full-time career, it is still women who are doing more of the work around the home as well.

In addition, women often find that their husbands are not supportive when they are highly successful in their careers. In a 2019 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which included over 6,000 American heterosexual couples over 15 years, many men experienced “psychological distress” if their wives made more than 40% of the household income in a marriage.

So if a woman has high expectations and responsibilities from her career, high expectations and responsibilities at home, and does not have support from her husband on career advancement, she may not find the marriage to be in her best interest anymore.

2 – Women often take on more of the emotional burden.

Communication is key in any marriage, but often an area where many couples struggle. Generally, men are not sufficiently taught how they can communicate and process emotions. As a result, women in marriages find they often will take on more of the emotional responsibilities. In some cases, this may include being the sole emotional support system for the entire family. Over time, this does take a toll on a person – mentally, physically and certainly emotionally. Without emotional support from husbands, wives are often left feeling alone and without a source of support within the marriage.

3 – Women no longer tolerate consistent unacceptable behavior.

At a point in history, women did not work as much as today. Because of this, wives would rely more so on their husbands for financial security. Even at the expense of abusive and negligent behavior. Today, this is not the case as much.  As a result, women are not willing to put up with consistent unacceptable behavior from their husbands for financial security.   This is especially relevant for college educated women with career choices.

Dori Schwartz, a divorce mediator and coach says, “Today’s modern woman is more unlikely to put up with infidelity. Once the honeymoon period is over, some men drastically change their behavior from romantic to controlling and emotionally abusive. Unfortunately, this happens in many marriages, and women don’t want to take it anymore.”

Conclusion

It certainly appears that many men are asleep in their marriages. This would explain why the many disappointments and discontent that women are experiencing in marriage are ignored or trivialized by their husbands.   Is it reasonable to hypothesize that being asleep is really the fact that men accept a mediocre relationship as normal and are men more likely to view a divorce as a failure rather than an ending?  This explanation might let some men off the hook but the reality is that men need to be paying closer attention to the health of their marriages and be willing to take steps to keep a marriage alive and thriving. 

Men and Gray Divorce

It’s  no secret that midlife or “gray” divorce is skyrocketing at the same time the overall divorce rate is declining.  In addition, according to the AARP, 66 percent of these divorces — which have doubled since 1990 — are initiated by women.  But the numbers, without any narrative, are just numbers. They don’t tell us why so many women, seemingly in droves, are making this heartbreakingly difficult decision at this stage in life.  Nor do they explain why women do better socially and emotionally in their post gray divorce lives.  A survey prepared by a prominent psychologist tried  to find out more. Hundreds of women post gray divorce took the survey and told their stories. Over 50% indicated emotional abuse as the main reason for initiating the divorce.  However, the question is, “Is this number higher for gray divorce?”  The findings of the survey are contradicted by a research paper in an established scientific journal which reported that, “older females reported experiencing less emotional abuse than older males. Overall, emotional abuse was more common in younger participants. “

How do we explain the stark differences between the therapist’s survey and the research article.  One possibility is that men feel more shame from emotional abuse and therefore in a survey format would less likely admit to or initiate divorce based on that abuse.  However, if emotional abuse is not the driving factor for the increasing gray divorce rate what  else is going on?  One might reasonably conclude that the pandemic has put additional strain on the gray couple.  For the most part gray couples have been married for a considerable time period and are most likely empty nesters.  Couples experiencing the empty nest have to readjust to the fact that the day to day raising of children is often a diversion from examining their needs and how the relationship is meeting those needs.  Adding to the problem is the issue of how the pandemic isolates couples from the workplace, social activities, recreation pursuits and their extended families.  The isolation forces a gray couple to look to each other, almost exclusively, for fulfillment.  This exclusivity highlights the fault lines in their relationship and can lead to the decision to separate.

The differences between how men and women fare post gray divorce again reveals the social isolation and depression that men, especially in middle age, experience.   One explanation is that in most marriages women usually take care of the social calendar.  Often couple socializing is based more on the women’s friendships rather than the friendship between the men.  Post divorce, the women continue their friendships while the men have less of a connection.  Many women in middle age experience a new sense of freedom when they divorce later in life.  They often feel like their needs and ambitions have been constrained by traditional marital roles – raising kids, household chores, deference to their spouse’s careers – and see post divorce as an opportunity to grow and fully express themselves.  Men in middle age have usually peeked in their careers and look to maintenance and easing of stress which is often incompatible with what their wives are needing.  This probably accounts for the fact that so many men who seek out men’s groups are in the process of divorce or are recently divorced.  The group provides the much needed connections to maintain mental health and provides a forum for forming new friendships.  It is indeed unfortunate that so many men, especially after a break up in marriage or a relationship, are unaware of the power of men’s work and slide into depression, substance abuse and suicide. 

Look to the next blog to explore why women initiate divorce far more often than men.