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Men and spousal support awards: images on the cave walls

Last week we wrote about working mothers and child custody. This week let's look at another aspect of shifting gender roles in today's America: the award of alimony not from, but rather to, men.

In Lake County, Illinois, and across the nation, the financial success of many women has altered the marital landscape profoundly. Nationally, according to recent research, 37 percent - or more than 1 in 3 - of married mothers out earn their husbands.

Does this mean it is becoming more common for men to receive alimony awards from wives in the event of divorce?

The answer is that the percentage of men who receive spousal support or maintenance from their ex-wives remains quite small. Only about 3 percent of men receive it.

In a big country like ours, that makes for quite a discrepancy in the overall numbers. According to Census Bureau data for 2010, the number of men receiving alimony was 12,000, compared to 380,000 women.

Why is the difference so stark? Male psychology is surely part of it. Even in an era with more equal gender roles, many men are still greatly influence by older images of the male provider bringing home the bacon.

Indeed, those images are so old that to speak of bringing home the bacon may not be primal enough. After all, there are even earlier images, from a time when men provided for their families by hunting wild game. In other words, the images on the cave walls are of men as material providers.

One partial answer, then, to the question of why so few men receive answer may be that few men ask for it. And so few ask because the cultural messages they have inherited are at odds with it.

Source: Huffington Post, "Why Don't More Men Ask For Alimony," Joseph E. Cordell, June 26, 2013

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