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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 29/06/2010 | 1 Comment

 Hardly was I back in Scotland and I received a phone call from Newsnight Scotland. They wanted me to appear on that evening’s programme to talk about Scottish men in the wake of the Frank McAveety resignation. I was tempted to say no - not only was I going to be jet lagged come eleven at night, and potentially incoherent, I find it impossible to discuss complex topics in the airtime the media usually devote to a topic. However, I agreed in this instance because it is subject close to my heart and a major focus of my new book. During the interview Gordon Brewer pressed me to say why I thought that the west of Scotland’s health problems were particularly bad given that international comparison suggests they can’t just be explained by deprivation or unemployment. I concluded my remarks by saying that men needed relationships with women and children to lead good lives.

A couple of days later a married,  but voluntarily childless man, raised the topic with me. Did I really believe that men needed children to be happy and healthy? Clearly, as a happy and healthy man he thought I was overgeneralising if not talking rubbish. So in case there are other men in this category out there, offended by what I said, let me explain.

One of the strongest findings from the happiness research is that married people are happier than those who are single, divorced or separated. They also have better physical and mental health. Of course, this can be affected by the nature of the relationship. Being in a poor relationship can undermine your health and happiness and you can be much worse off than you would be if you were single. But generally marriage is good for people and some studies estimate that it can boost men’s life expectancy by about seven years and women’s by two years. The reasons often given to explain this boil down to three things: first, ‘the guardian effect’ whereby married men tend to drink less and indulge in fewer risky behaviours, and have a more ordered health promoting lifestyle. Secondly married people in general pool their resources and so have a material advantage. Thirdly, women tend to be more social than men and introduce them to wider social network thus keeping isolation at bay.

Interestingly these benefits aren’t just about living together as cohabitation does not have the same health and happiness promoting effects. One of the reasons may be the lack of stability and positive commitment - cohabiting couples are four times more likely to separate than married couples. The extent to which marriage has collapsed in Scotland can be seen in the following figures. At the 2001 census in England and Wales the percentage of the population who were single was 30 per cent. In Scotland it was 43 per cent and in Greater Glasgow (not just the city) it was almost 48 per cent. That’s a huge difference. Of course, many of these single people would be cohabiting but given the instability of cohabitation that is a lot of relationship churn.

I cohabited with my partner and our two sons for thirty years before we finally got married and so I am not raising this for moralistic reasons. What concerns me is the well-being implications. Given how bad health is for men in some particularly poor areas of Glasgow (the life expectancy for men in Shettleston, for example, is 55) should we not be asking ourselves whether personal relationships and family life might hold the key?

The instability in relationships can also be see in our rate of single parent families - in Glasgow 48 per cent of families with dependent children are single parent. This is one of the highest figures in the world. Nine out of ten of these are headed by a woman so that’s a lot of men living separately from their children. Some reports suggest that in the West of Scotland when men and women split up within two years half these men will have lost all contact with their children. Of course, for some children whose father drink or are violent this is a Godsend but nonetheless it means that these children are missing out on the resources, affection, attention and role modelling that a good father can bring. And this may account for the fact that children from single parent families, even better-off ones, do not tend to do as well across a range of measures as children from two parent families.

Well-being research internationally suggests that having children does not contribute much to personal happiness though I think there are few people who would not say that having children was one of the most meaningful parts of their lives.

So to go back to my Newsnight comment - at one level I was being inaccurate. The evidence suggests that men’s personal health and happiness is generally boosted by marriage but not so by having children. In this respect I was wrong to say that men need wives and children to be healthy and happy. The man who raised the issue with me clearly thought he was doing fine without children and the chance are he is. But I doubt that is true of lots of men in Glasgow who are languishing.

Another man who let me know he didn’t like what I was saying about marriage and the family for men was Stuart Cosgrove - head of Channel 4 in Scotland and co-presenter for Off the Ball. Stuart is a well-educated, savvy man with lots of interests and ways of finding fulfillment. His media role is more than likely going to keep him occupied. But the men in the west of Scotland who are dying young or plagued by ill health aren’t like Stuart. Even if they hold down rather menial jobs (rather than being out of work) what are they likely to fill their lives with if they don’t have women, children and families in their lives?

In Inverclyde recently I was at a meeting where I was told by various professionals present that they didn’t welcome my comments about the nuclear family or marriage. One woman told me they had worked hard to get same sex relationships accepted and what I was saying was a backward step. A policeman told me that he disagreed with my comments on singe parent families - ‘I think if kids have one parent they are doing well’, he said. I repied that this view isn’t in line with the evidence but even if there wasn’t a problem with kids it presented Inverclyde with a huge problem. They have the highest level of Korsakov syndrome - alcoholic brain disease - in the world. “How do you think you are going to begin to solve this or your violence problem if men are detached from women and family life. What have they got to live or work for?’, I asked him. I didn’t get a reply.

So of course there are men in Glasgow who don’t have children and have good lives but there’s many more who are turning their backs on their kids and it isn’t just their children or partners who potentially suffer. They do as well. It simply takes the pressure off them to provide for their family, leaving them free to drink, hang about pubs, watch the telly or engage in other activities which don’t add up to a healthy life.

Interestingly a few days after the programme a guy appeared at the Centre asking if he could buy my book. I wasn’t there and didn’t meet him but he told the staff he was a retired welder. His marriage had split up. His mental and physical health had suffered and he wanted to read the book as he agreed with what that ‘woman on the telly was saying’.

Anyone who takes the time to read my book will see that I’m not arguing that women should put up with abusive men, drunkards or even men who just continually suit themselves and aren’t interested in their partners or families. Glasgow women have suffered for years like this and I’m glad that some have now got more chance of saying they’ve had enough. But we need to recognise that what’s broken in Glasgow and has been for a long time concerns relationships between men and women. I believe it is a major contribution to our long list of health and social problems. Of course, I’m generalising - some people manage to have good relationships - but so much of the history and culture of Glasgow tells a different story. A story that we need to start telling.

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Joined: 22/05/2009

Comment Posted: 06/07/2010 22:02
Thank you for your blogs, they make for very interesting reading. I wonder have you read any of the literature on occupational justice and occupational apartheid? A good source is 'Occupational Therapy Without Borders': Learning from the Spirit of Survivors. Primary authors are Kronenberg,F and Pollard,N.
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