The study, presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association, found that the pressures on men of staying at home to look after the children can be so stressful that they have a damaging effect on health.
Researcher Dr Elaine Eaker, of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises in Wisconsin, said the key to the problem was that some men became stressed about the fact that they were performing a role not traditionally associated with them by society.
Men who do stay at home to look after the family tend not to have the same levels of support from peers, friends and family as women who do the same. The findings are based on a 10-year study of 2,682 people aged between 18 and 77 who lived in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts.
Men who described themselves as house husbands had an 82% higher death rate over the period of the study than men who worked outside the home. Heart disease accounted for most of the extra risk. The finding held good even when
other factors such as age, blood pressure, and cholesterol level were taken into account.
Jack O'Sullivan, of the Fathers Direct group, was quoted as saying: “Home dads can be quite isolated. Society expects the main carer to be a woman, and society is structured around that. Daycare is called 'mother and toddler groups' and some men feel awkward about belonging to those groups.”
Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational psychologist at the University of Manchester, said many men were guilty of under-estimating the task of caring for a family. He told the BBC: “Most men think being a house husband will involve popping on a bit of washing, taking the kids to school and then putting their feet up with a cup of coffee. They are crazy. Housewives do much more multi-tasking than almost any man ever has to do in the workplace.”
It is estimated that men have taken over the main homemaker's role in one in seven homes as increasing numbers of women become the main
The study also found that women in high powered jobs were more likely to develop heart disease than those in more junior positions. For men, that finding was reversed.