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Gender role reversal: Civilian husbands of U.S. military servicewomen as tied-migrant workers

APA Citation:

Dowling, L. E., Jackson, J. B., & Landers, A. L. (2024). Gender role reversal: Civilian husbands of U.S. military servicewomen as tied-migrant workers. Family Relations, 73(1), 441-465. https://doi.org/10.1111/fare.12936

Abstract Created by REACH:

This qualitative study explored civilian husbands’ experiences as “tied-migrant workers” – spouses whose careers and employment opportunities tend to rely on their wives’ military careers. The tied-migrant worker experience may be especially unique for husbands in patriarchal cultures, which expect men to be the family’s main financial provider; the study therefore explored how civilian husbands viewed their masculinity in light of their tied-migrant worker role. 22 civilian husbands were interviewed about their experience being married to Servicewomen and how this related to their perceptions of their masculinity. 3 themes emerged: shifts in perceptions of masculinity, the feeling of being a minority in the military, and the complexities of being a tiedmigrant worker.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Multiple branches
Marine Corps
Air Force

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Qualitative Study


Dowling, L. Emily, Jackson, Jeffrey B., Landers, Ashley L.


Objective This qualitative study examined the experiences of male spouses of female service members in the U.S. military (civilian husbands of servicewomen) in their positions as tied-migrant workers. Background Employment of civilian husbands of servicewomen is frequently affected when they geographically relocate due to their wives' military service. Because societal norms for husbands as primary breadwinners in marriages persist and the majority of military couples consist of male service members married to female civilian spouses, civilian husbands of servicewomen may experience a gender role reversal in their identities as a spouse and as a provider within their relationships and military culture. Method Semistructured interviews were conducted with 22 civilian husbands who experienced at least one geographic relocation due to their wife's military service. Descriptive phenomenological analysis was used to discover the essence of participants' experiences. Results Themes around defining masculinity, minority experiences in the military, and nontraditional gender provider roles as tied-migrant workers emerged. Participants experienced a gender role reversal as tied-migrant workers and as military spouses, and they had some difficulties integrating into military communities. Participants expanded their masculine identities to include performing traditionally feminine tasks and valuing egalitarianism in their spousal relationships when they experienced barriers to breadwinning. Conclusion Findings indicated the importance of emotional support as civilian husbands navigate their masculine identities and relationships both with spouses and as gender minorities in their communities. Implications Clinical recommendations for psychotherapists are provided with an emphasis on using emotionally focused therapy with couples consisting of civilian husbands and servicewomen.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


breadwinning, gender roles, masculinity, military spouses, provider role, stereotypes

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  January 2024

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