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The Effects Of Unemployment On Men And Their Manliness

7 October 2008 40 Comments

Art of Manliness recently wrote on Dealing With Unemployment Like a Man. It’s a great site and a great post. Since I am in this situation at the moment, I thought it prudent to comment in my own way.

If you choose to be unemployed, you may find this article not as relevant at the beginning. However, you will find it poignant at some point during your self-imposed sabbatical. This article is written for those of us that did not choose to be unemployed. It was out of our hands and now have to make the best of it.

I have never been unemployed before. It was a HUGE adjustment. Imagine going 100 miles per hour for 20+ years and then nothing. The only thing I’ve experienced that comes close to the feeling is finding out your mate has not been faithful. You go from “everything is great” to the “world has ended”.

I am certain this is the same feeling people get when they retire. It’s like driving along in your car and suddenly, unexpectedly getting hit by another vehicle. You take the drive, the car, the action for granted – then your entire perspective on everything, literally everything, changes instantly. It certainly shakes things up.

This article focuses on 5 effects of unemployment men often take for granted. I am sure there are many more, of course, but these 5 aspects of manliness were affected greatly during my layoff. My intent on discussing this is not to tell you how to deal with your situation – everyone is different. Also, AoM did a fantastic job in identifying a plan, albeit obvious ideas, which we all need to remind ourselves of during unemployment.

What you lose as a man

Responsibility – Some guys might like the idea of being unemployed. I won’t pass judgment on anyone, but for me, not providing for my family or myself through productive work is the polar opposite of manliness. Accepting that responsibility is a core manliness trait. When you do not have gainful employment, a sense of responsibility is lost.

It is only human to fall into a mode of less responsibility. We tend to look at the greater economy or some outside factor that has caused this situation and then turn to others to help out (namely the government). When we start getting handouts/charity/whatever you want to call it, our level of responsibility in our own minds often slides. It can be a vicious circle that men have to be extremely careful.

Sense of purpose – All humans need to be loved, accepted and respected. It is a human emotion and a need – not a want. Having a sense of purpose is an affect of these three human needs. When you lose your job, as a man, it puts a huge dent in this effort.

Men, in general, relate to this much more than women. We identify who we are as men by what we do for a living. Think about that. Men often shape and carve their personalities, friends, colleagues, after work activities, and much more based solely on what they do for a living. When we lose this core foundation of our identity, it crushes our manly egos and our manliness takes a serious hit.

Dignity – Webster defines dignity as the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. It simply does not matter if you chose to be unemployed or it was chosen for you – you will at some point lose a portion of your dignity. It may be all so slight or even at a subconscious level, but it will happen.

In my case, I became unemployed not by my own decision. It simply happened. My sense of worth and the idea of not being needed any more was a huge blow to my ego. The company did not make it so I know there were other factors at play, but it still forces one to think about their value.

Money – I have always subscribed to the notion that I would not work if I didn’t need the cash. I now know that statement to be only partially true. I need the cash, but this little episode in my life has taught me that I would continue to work regardless if I needed it or not. The work might be completely different, but having an affect in people’s lives and making my own life worthwhile through meaningful work is as core to me as being a man itself. The compensation for my time and production is an essential part of the equation for obvious reasons – my family and my other habits/vices.

Testosterone – This is often overlooked in this predicament. We all know the pitfalls of the obvious – self worth; sense of purpose; responsibility; dignity; etc. However, men thrive on competition, the chase and eventually the battle. Over time, men have tried to suppress this inherent need, but it is in our DNA. Being unemployed has affected my level of manliness in ways I am embarrassed to discuss, but do so to ensure other guys don’t feel alone in this regard.

Being unemployed has wreaked havoc on my sex life and my ability to perform in competitive situations. All men, married or not, live for the chase. The chase is in constant play and testosterone is a key ingredient. Women (and specifically sex) are the prize. My wife has noticed the difference and it is clear I’ve lost an edge in our relationship. Also, in all my sporting activities, it has become much less important to win and compete than in times past.

Cause vs. Symptom

Living without meaningful work and employment is a cause of this lost manliness. The other items listed in this article are symptoms. This is a very important distinction we men who are faced with this issue have to distinguish.

There will be people who don’t agree with me, but gainful employment and sense of purpose is the root cause of how we feel during this time. It is not a symptom of deeper rooted issues or something that happened during our childhood. That is an excuse in my opinion.

My friend said it best as I was contemplating a few offers recently. I was splitting hairs and trying to justify my thoughts around these offers. He stepped up as all good friends would and said, “Shut up and get a freaking job! You need to take care of your family and get your edge back. It is MUCH easier to find the right job when you already have one.”

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it sure resonates for me.

If you have any thoughts or differing opinions, leave a comment. I would love to hear them.


  • Arturo Gonzalez said:

    About 6 years ago I was unemployed close to a year and it was one of the most difficult times of my life. But throughout those challenging months meditating on Matthew 6:25-26:

    “Therefore I tell you, stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; or about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life greater [in quality] than food, and the body [far above and more excellent] than clothing?
    Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

    Many blessings to all,

    Art Gonzalez
    Check my Squidoo Lens at: Quantum Knights

  • B. Wilde said:

    I so appreciate how willing you are to expose your embarrassment and dignity that others of us may benefit from your experience. You are so right, that we are so tied to being able to contribute and compete. We live and breath by these things. This is the kind of post I would hang on to as I am bound to lose my job one day or have someone close to me become involuntarily unemployed. Sometimes we need a good swift kick and fortunately, your friend gave that to you. We all have to go through our own process, but thankfully, for you and your family, you are coming out of it.

    B. Wildes last blog post..My Summer Vacation with the Scouts

  • Kevin (author) said:

    Thanks B Wilde. I appreciate the well wishes and wish the same on you and your family. Thanks!

  • Mike Bates said:

    Your candor and insight are impressive, Kevin. I think this problem is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. It sounds as though the unemployment rolls are going to be very full in the near future. Can a renewed crisis of manliness be far behind?


    Mike Batess last blog post..Great Moments in Terrible Filmmaking: The Wicker Man

  • Kevin (author) said:

    Mike, Interesting thought. Our definition we have for ourselves in this regard is sure to change. I need to think about what all this means from a macro level. I wrote the article from an individual level and how it has affected me, but what it means to us as a society of men and manliness – I need to ponder this a little more…

  • The Art of Manliness Weekly Roundup: Man Cookbook Edition | HisCast said:

    […] The Effects of Unemployment on Men and Their Manliness (@ return to manliness) Kevin at Return to Manliness shares his experience with being unemployed and its effect on him. […]

  • Virilitas said:

    I agree that working often makes us more satisfied and gives us a way to grow in manliness. On the other hand, sometimes we get so attached to work that losing a job is what it takes to make us reexamine our lives and priorities. In that case, unemployment can be the retreat or vacation that you never took.

  • Kevin (author) said:

    Virilitas, great point!

  • Lady Bug said:


    I thought your article was beautifully written and very thought provoking. As a woman, it has helped me understand how losing a job affects men so very deeply.

    I do find it strange though, why men are so averse to “counselling” to help them through this difficult period.

  • Kevin (author) said:

    I’ve thought about the counseling thing quite a bit lately. Men are definitely averse to it, in general. I use my close friends that are either in the same position as I am or I would consider peers. They don’t have the professional training a counselor might have though. I know that formal training helps and I think men should consider this…

    Thanks for the comment. Appreciate the thoughts.

  • Brad said:

    I think this article is a masterpiece. I am unemployed and relate so well to the points made. Your confidence, drive and ambition can suffer greatly. All I can say is I wish all that are in this situation the very best wishes for a happy, healthy, and productive outcome.

  • Kevin (author) said:

    Thanks Brad. I am still unemployed and I am now certain it will be the biggest test of my life. I never knew this side of the job market and it is a little frightening. I have learned A LOT about myself. Good luck to you and anyone else out there who is looking. It can play some serious tricks on your psyche and it is important to keep things in perspective when looking.

  • papa said:

    life is short, you work so hard and after you work so hard they just fire you then you get sick and die! just let things happen its just what it is in this world!

  • Lady Bug said:

    Hello again!

    I just wanted to say, please do not despair, have faith and keep focused – things have a way of correcting themselves.

    I read a quote which I would like to share with you –

    “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we don’t see the one which has opened for us”

  • Incogni said:

    You also lose all sex appeal when you lose all your money and prestige. Women quantify sexual attractiveness based on wealth and status. It doesn’t matter that the world is financial meltdown and female employment is quickly eclipsing male employment, the majority of women want a man that makes more money than them. You can be the most educated, tall, gorgeous, well-dressed, sincere man on the planet, but if you don’t have a good job or real money to your name; women won’t want, let alone need, you. So single unemployed men of America, get ready for every attractive educated woman you see or meet to look right past you, talk down to you or turn lesbian.

  • Sam Dogbatse said:

    well summed up.

  • DenniJimLive said:

    ‘You also lose all sex appeal when you lose all your money and prestige.’

    The above statement is true if your identity is rooted in materialism or man’s opinion.

    I lost my wife, mother, business and home last year. I was forced to move to another country and live with friends as I rebuilt my entire life. The rebuilding is not nearly complete as the three girls and me start over. at 43.

    If a woman would display such a shallow attitude, a man would have to ask if he would want to be in a relationship with such a woman. I think not.

  • PUA Warbucks said:

    As long as we have something to do, even volunteering or picking out new hobbies. Personally I would find a way to be self employed in this economy.
    .-= PUA Warbucks´s last blog ..Why Lifestyle is More Important than Game – Part 1 =-.

  • Shf84 said:

    I’ll agree that it’s no good being unemployed. However the idea that men should have their dignity and self worth etc while women are somehow supposed to not be bothered by this is wrong. Every one deserves dignity, financial independence and self worth. This is not something just for men.

  • deb said:

    As the wife of a man who has been unemployed I feel qualified to comment here. My husband of 20 years has been unemployed one year. I found this article searching for clues as to how to help him become motivated. Since he has lost his job, the only jobs he has applied for are of the “online” variety. I am not familiar with this type of job hunting and I have a problem with it. It seems to me as if he isn’t really trying very hard, since he has not been out of the house to personally go out to see about jobs. When I inquire about why hes not physically job seeking, he thinks i am nagging and bitching. I have had the same job for 25 years and have no idea about job hunting in this day and time, so maybe he is right. But I see how the longer he is unemployed, the more comfortable he is with it, watching food network and has become obsessive about sausage making and so forth. I try to give him helpful suggestions but am met with sarcasm. Further more, he has no motivation to do anything except cook. Many things are falling apart around him and he just ignores it. I have about reached the end of my patience and have told him so. Just so you know the other side of the story, he has been a very good husband and step father to my older kids and now he is helping me raise the grandkids due to their drug addicted mother. He has many good traits and I don’t want a divorce but I feel alot of resentment about this job business and the apathy. Just thought I would add my 2 cents worth….

    Good luck to all you men hunting for jobs……..

  • John said:

    Wow Deb,

    You really don’t get it.

  • Rob said:

    The Atlantic Monthly stated “it’s unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.”
    I think men should start looking at the reasons why they constitute 80% of job losses during this recession. One of the major reasons is education discrimination. Many men whom lost their jobs have only a high school diploma. Most stable jobs now require a college degree.
    However, men do not have equal access to college financial aid. There is more financial aid available to women than men. Additionally, the American education system is designed to promote girls into college while largely ignoring boys.
    Lastly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a worker with only a high school diploma is twice as likely to be unemployed than a person with a college degree. And this has been true since 1975.

    source: Percentage College Men

    Also, I don’t think commenter Deb said anything wrong. She simply wants her husband to have effort and hope. But you can’t have hope without effort.

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  • Mary said:

    My husband has been unemployed 2 and 1/2 years. Initially, we did ok with me working and making ends meet. We were in the middle of buying a house. Then it fell thru with that whole Indie-Mac Bank thing. So we needed to relocate, and it had to be less expensive than where we were living at the time (a metropolitan city). So we moved to my hometown (a small city). Closer to family and friends who could help and just be there as support. I got a job, 40 mins. away from our rented apartment but the pay was good for the area. Still I made alot less and had to work more hours to make ends meet. He looked for jobs while on unemployment, and when that ran out, he stopped. He also stopped taking care of the apartment, and me. He’s home for our son, and does minimal tasks around the house, but the place is filthy. I’m exhausted. And my husband has lost the ability to function. He lies to me alot. I was just put on an antidepressant. And I’ll be starting counseling too. Him? Nothing. Nothing at all. I’m so stressed out all I can do is sleep, work and eat. Food is tasteless though, so no enjoyment there. We can’t take a vacation to get away. No money to do anything at all. No dinner out. No movies. Nothing. He told me he had a job offer recently, and told me he just had to set our son up in a daycare situation for after school, and he told me a whole bunch of BS to string me along a couple weeks, til today he said he didn’t have a job. And I was ready to shell out more money for childcare, when the so-called job existed. Truly believe he is depressed. But he won’t do anything about it. Money isn’t everything? Well, if this is him when times are tough, and he can’t be an equal partner doing something to be supportive in any little way he can…I might as well be a single mother. We’ve been married 11 years.

  • Lisa said:

    My husband lost his job of 11 years in 2005. Since then he has only worked temporary jobs. Like Deb’s husband, he has also only been looking online for jobs which is probably the least resourceful way to find a job.
    He started back to school (free program) to upgrade his skill earlier his year but has failed to take the test.
    Some of our biggest arguments have been about me not being understanding. From my perspective, how long do I hang in there with someone who is not giving their full effort. I feel like I’m the one supporting the family & he’s just “here”.
    At this point, I think he is not really even looking for a job because of the fear of rejection.
    This is a very frustrating process for both men and women.

  • The Art of Manliness Weekly Roundup: Man Cookbook Edition | The Art of Manliness said:

    […] The Effects of Unemployment on Men and Their Manliness (@ return to manliness) Kevin at Return to Manliness shares his experience with being unemployed and its effect on him. […]

  • Todd said:

    I have been unemployed for a little over 6 months. I can only speak for myself when I say that while online job searching is the least resourceful, many of the other tactics people suggest are easier said than done. “Why don’t you go out and pound the pavement?” right? Now imagine walking in cold to a business and asking to talk to someone about a possible job. It comes off as desperate and a little weird and your most likely response is, “Go to our website and fill out an application.” I have started networking, joined social groups, and called and asked my former employer for a job. I have yet to even get an interview. Your husbands need to try, but I really think that until you are in this situation, it is really hard to judge. Historically, we are in new territory. I cannot stress enough to you wives how much this affects your ego and security in your life and marriage as a man. We feel the need to provide, and you look for us to provide. We both know the deal. To not be able to handle that causes stress like you cannot imagine. Understand this, and tell them that you believe in them.

  • Pick Up Artist said:

    Meaningul work is key… if it’s not meaningful I don’t care how much they pay me, it just ain’t happening.

  • Mrs Moroccan said:

    @ Pick Up Artist, work is work. Meaningful is meaningless after a certain point, when money is tight and times are tough. My husband (an immigrant) has been applying for job after job, but because it’s a time of high unemployment and there is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, it makes it even harder for him to find work. Something, whether meaningful or not, is better than nothing. It places a lot of strain on us, but we try to be positive as best we can.

  • esley said:

    I found this article to be honest and wonderfully profound. My boyfriend and I recently ended our relationship on very good terms because of his involuntary unemployment. He pushed me away. I didn’t understand why. Now I do. Thank You!

  • nowhereman said:

    Re: counseling

    The entire industry for helping people is designed to coddle women, and hire angry women to shut men out from recieving “help”. The Domestic Violence industry, Family Courts, False Rape, Crisis Lines, community help places are over run by angry women, and we are not allowed to mention that fact. They hate men and perpertuate hate towards men, and society crumbles.

    That is why men do not get conselling as much as women. There common sense behind it all, and then men are blamed for being stubborn and too proud to admit our psychology was battered. The truth is that we have common sense, some of us at least. I made all the mistakes reaching out for help any man would ever need to make to tell you all.

    This is one of those things that nobody really believes, and they accuse people of being crazy. Angry women take jobs in the helping industry because it is like a kid in a candy store for finding vulnerable people. Guys, the last thing I recommend is “reaching out for help”. It is like reaching your hand into a basket of venomous snakes and spiders, hoping not to get bit. It is nasty out there for men. It is entirely designed in favor of females and to disfavor men.

  • Edgar said:

    In Germany, in the early 1990s many lost their jobs in the east; more women than men. Their feelings have been reported the same as men’s.
    “We identify who we are as men by what we do for a living… Men often shape and carve their personalities, friends, colleagues, after work activities, and much more based solely on what they do for a living.”
    This fact, as the whole article, would be a good argument to change your narrow, obviously one-sided notion of how to be a man: From fully job-centred to a bit more open, more-dimensional. Life is about so many things, work, family, relations, your own body, nature, culture and so on. Unfortunately the whole paradigm of the article is ultra conservative, taken for granted every stereotype on men and work.

    I was unemployed several times. It was hard money-wise, and not comfortable when my friends had good jobs. Sometimes I was unstructured, feeling depressed and anxious about what would happen. But I never pressed myself into that narrow shape of “a man needs a job”, and tried to stay flexible and open-minded. in that way, th earticle seems to offer a wrong affirmation of unflexible stereotypes.

    “Being unemployed has wreaked havoc on my sex life and my ability to perform in competitive situations.” Sorry to read that, I hope it became better. However, it does not start with your hormones, it all starts in your head: If you strongly believe that a man can only be who has a job, this pressure can cause erectile dysfunction.

  • ATtheDump said:

    Nowhereman is complete right.
    There is no real help for men at all, and what little “good” help there is costs a fortune, which when your unemployed is and living on savings is impossible to pay.
    When will the modern man be free of guilt from the abuses of there grandfather’s?

  • SoCalifRocks said:

    For those of you, like Deb, who see men at home on the web putting in applications, wondering why we don’t get out and pound the streets for a job… jobs aren’t found pounding the sidewalks, going into businesses cold calling for employment anymore. They’ll tell you more often than not that they do all of their hiring online. They’ll give you the company’s website, tell you to look up careers, and put in your resume. The applicant is applying amongst 500-5,000 other applicants, all vying for the same position. Employers don’t waste their time looking at people walking through the front door.

    I’m a Veteran without any time spent in action. I have never been in prison; never been on illegal drugs; and am not an alcoholic. However, after the separation from my wife, I went to the Los Angeles VA. They told me I was too clean and they wanted to put me on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. I was told to lie, to tell people I am a little crazy, that I drink too much now and then, and to tell them I take drugs every so often so I can get the help I need. But I’m NOT GOING TO LIE AND HURT MY DIGNITY AND MY CHARACTER. I HAVE TO SLEEP AT NIGHT.

    I know I’ve tried to get work for the last 3 years! I’ve been on Food Stamps (SNAP), and GR (Governmental Supplemental Income, but I cannot get any disability. And I cannot get unemployment due to my never having worked in California. What a wonderful (a little sarcasm) situation to be in!!!

  • Jeff Lucia said:

    7 kids in the house;5 are special needs. My wife mentioned at my 2 year unemployment mark, that she should try and apply somewhere. She applied once to one place and was hired within 2 weeks. The manliness thing is an overwelming, sad and hopeless situation for me. I look around in the public gym at career-police and firemen who are so cocky about their worth as men…it makes my eyes tear up and men should not “tear up”…yet I am less than a man. Everytime my wife rejects me in bed I want to attribute it to my worthlessness as a man. But what woman wants to be with a worthless man? None! I am suicidal if not for the kids to watch. To live in constant isolation is so bad…

  • Virilitas (Shawn) said:


    I think that all men– even the cocky ones– face depression at times, and a lot of guys are dealing with extra challenges, right now, due to the economy. You’re not alone.

    Hang in there. Your kids need you. Your wife needs you. Stay connected to them, and connect with others so that you can find strength to make your way to a better situation.

  • Mary said:

    Since my last post (# 9 September 2010 at 2:36 pm ), my husband had a VERY short job in a convenience store for 3 weeks. Their ‘training’ program was spotty at best, so no wonder he screwed up and was let go. I supported him thru all that. But for those 3 weeks, his self-esteem went up, we felt better together I think, and we had hope. When the job ended, I encouraged him to get right back out there and try again.
    He hasn’t. Many, many excuses and now it’s near the end of 2012. Trying to get him to be the best stay at home dad ever, in lieu of outside work, but it’s really not going that great and I end up doing twice the work, like a single parent. Depressed? Oh yes, he is. Will he do something about it. No he won’t. We did end up buying our own home and I can still support our small family on what I make, but not much for extras.
    And I think he’s scared to get back out there. I hate when family members & friends prod me & tell me how to ‘handle’ him via threats, ultimatums and the like. Believe, I’ve been there and done that. It doesn’t work. Warm and fuzzy love doesn’t either, it creates for him a false sense of security, so he doesn’t need to try & find something.
    This is my lot and this is all I can hope for, so I make the best of it, even tho I’m tired.
    I don’t want him to work to “take care” of me. I want him to work to make him feel better about himself. I want him to work to help me support our household. I want him to work, because it’ll make him a better parent to our 12 year old and I want him to work, cuz I can’t stand for him to be around the house ALL the time! It was pure heaven for our son and I to be in the house for an hour and a half, when I forced him to go to the PTO meeting alone. I get to look forward to that 2nd tuesday of each month now. It’s the little things that bring me joy.

  • AV said:

    Thank you for this article. I came upon it as I was looking for a blog on men and how they feel about being unemployed. My husband has been unemployed for quite some time now (not his choice). I know that he is unhappy and lost and feels as though he is no longer a man. It really crushes my heart. Asking my husband how he feels just angers him as he is so frustrated and so, it is for this reason, that I wanted to hear from other men who have been in this situation.

    I hope he finds employment soon. I want to see his spirit again πŸ™

  • Mary said:

    When I 1st wrote in Sept. Of 2010, I was very upset and my husband depressed about his lack of a job. It’s almost 3 years later & my husband is still without a job, but less depressed. He recently got 2 prospects but we’ll see. I’ve given up on hoping that will occur, so nothing to get disappointed about if it doesn’t. We bought a house with money inherited and so no mortgage. There are better days, I guess I had to lower my standards, which were never that high to begin with. My husband has a manly purpose, being a homeowner keeps him busier. It’s tough times we live in, some issues are self made, all we can do is live simply and with love, on less.

  • stigmas | rousch's unemployment saga said:

    […] women are not ever on the receiving end of such treatments, however – it is still an old, unbroken stereotype and gender role that men are supposed to be the “breadwinners” and therefore when unemployed become […]

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