Why losing a job can hurt men more (Philadelphia Inquirer 2/4/09)

By Christopher Wink | Feb. 4, 2009 | Philadelphia Inquirer

Thomas Schuler is a man.

Since October, he also has been without a job, a combination of characteristics that some say comes with distinct disadvantages.

That’s because unemployment affects men differently than women – research shows joblessness often is emotionally harder for men to bear. And with the economy hemorrhaging high numbers of jobs, disproportionately in male-dominated industries, those disparate emotions – shame, anger, fear, vulnerability – are on display more than ever. These feelings often find their way into other parts of a man’s life, affecting relationships with friends, wife and children.

“Historically, men have been in the breadwinner role in families, and so their sense of self is wrapped up in their ability to provide,” said Jerry Jacobs, a University of Pennsylvania sociology professor whose research focuses on labor. “So even today, when men are unemployed, that comes as a different kind of blow than to women.”

Schuler was proud when he landed his job as a facilities engineer at a struggling hotel in Plymouth Meeting. But when his position became a casualty of his company’s struggles, he suffered.

“I felt grief, self-pity, a state of depression like [never before],” said Schuler, 49, of West Philadelphia. “Men like to feel that no matter the life situation, we can adapt . . . but this economy is something different. I don’t think Adam Smith himself could straighten this thing out.”

This kind of blow has become all too common of late.

In November, nearly 60,000 more people were unemployed in the Philadelphia area – what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics considers 11 counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland – than at the same time in 2007. That was 6,600 more than in October, according to the bureau. Nationally, many male-dominated industries were hardest hit, including 10-year unemployment highs in construction and other heavy-manufacturing sectors.

Most people have been taught to believe that job security is linked to job performance. But layoffs often are indiscriminate, leaving men feeling disillusioned, particularly in a recession like the current one, Jacobs said.

Andy Hathaway worked in the same place for nearly a quarter century. He thought he was safe after surviving his company’s slashing of nearly 3,000 jobs worldwide in September. But the electrical engineer with a lifetime of good performance reviews got the ax Nov. 20 – along with more than 80 of his coworkers.

“It’s stunning, like someone calling up with the death of a good friend,” Hathaway said. “I went through all the stages: anger, depression, guilt.”

In single-income households during the first half of the 20th century, a man losing his job was a crisis, Jacobs said. Today, dual-income families can soften the financial blow, but the emotional threat to a male’s sense of self lingers. That, in turn, affects his interactions with others.

Schuler said he feared that his three children and four grandsons looked down on him now that he lacked a job.

“They think there’s something different about Pop-Pop,” Schuler said. “Maybe they think, ‘How come a grown man doesn’t have enough money to take his kids to Wendy’s?’ ”

Hathaway, the electrical engineer from Germansville, Pa., admitted to being quicker to anger now, even with his wife.

“She’s told me I’m not the same now, and I’m not,” Hathaway said. “I have a 10,000-pound gorilla on my shoulders telling me to get into a job.”

Carl Grant, 58, lost a good job, too – as an electrician with the city’s water department. This economy called for cuts, and incurring a DUI charge made him expendable.

The resident of West Philadelphia’s Haddington neighborhood said he was doing the best he could, but he recognizes that getting a new job will be tough – after all, having any criminal record in a sluggish economy “is not even an option.”

“We define ourselves by what kind of job we have and what kind of job we do,” Grant said. “My job – that’s the kind of man I am. I liked my job. Now what? You find another, like a man does. . . . But what if you can’t?”

Piers Marchant lost his job as a senior editor with AOL Time Warner twice: first in February 2003 and again in 2007.

“It got harder and harder to look your wife in the eye,” Marchant 42, said. “Wasn’t she looking at me and thinking, ‘What is wrong with this guy? Why is he incapable of biting the bullet and getting a gig that pays us a living wage?’ ”

After losing his job the second time, Marchant, who lives in Queen Village, took the editor-in-chief position at two.one.five magazine, a glossy periodical based in Northern Liberties. It’s a welcome position, though print media are no employment bomb shelter. More than 14,000 newspaper jobs disappeared nationally in 2008, the same year nearly a dozen major magazines folded, according to research by Samir A. Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor who follows industry trends.

Many workplaces breed a culture of complaining – people lament how the daily grind is a daily burden. But when people, especially men, are without a job, they can lose a sense of purpose, said Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University who studies human motivation.

“You’re happy for the most part to go to work,” said David Clyburn, 52, of the Nicetown section of Philadelphia. “If you’re not working, you’re not happy as a man.”

Having lost his job as a packer at a chemical plant in August, he’s now looking for work in information technology, perhaps with a company’s computer help desk.

Clyburn and other unemployed men are in danger of falling into serious depression, Farley said.

“Keep perspective. There was more unemployment in 1982 than now. Then, like after the Great Depression, good times followed,” he said.

Farley recommends using job loss as a chance to change fields or go back to school. Try a new hobby or play your favorite sport, he said – anything to keep from getting down on yourself, “which solves nothing.”

Clyburn is spending his time leveraging resources at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, a membership organization of low-wage workers and the unemployed. Until he succeeds, he watches with frustration as his wife has to work extra overtime as a client-care worker with the physically and mentally disabled.

“Women see it more as a family issue. For men, it’s more about getting out there and being part of a community,” Clyburn said. “Work, I think, will always mean something more for a man. So losing that job for a man is losing part of him. A man is what he does. Do you think any man wants to lose that?”