Fathers Want Work-Life Balance Too

May 31, 2009 by Rose Cook

For many people, the term “work-life balance” conjures up an image of the working mother toting briefcase in one hand and diaper bag in the other, trying frantically to succeed at both.  Well, times are a-changing…  Fathers are dealing with similar struggles and want work-life balance too.
Look around and we can see the changes playing out daily.  Fathers are cooking and pushing strollers; mothers are discussing promotions and upcoming business trips.  It’s no surprise there’s some shift away from traditional gender roles, but the survey data surprised even the researchers.

In a newly released study by the Families and Work Institute, aptly named “Times are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home,” it’s clear the attitudes about the roles of men and women have changed significantly.  
While 2 in 5 employees still endorse the traditional gender roles of the man earning the money and the woman taking care of the home and children, the recent change in attitude has been more dramatic among men than women.  Among men, the percentage of those who agreed with the traditional gender roles fell sharply from 74% in 1977 to 42% in 2008; whereas, among women that percentage dropped from 52% in 1977 to 39% in 2008.
So, what’s behind this change in attitude?  A dramatic shift in demographics, that’s what.  In 1975, only 47% of mothers with children under 18 participated in the U.S. labor force; by 2007, that number was up significantly to 71%!  Earnings of women in the workforce have increased too, contributing more these days to the overall family income.  In 2008, women in dual-earner couples contributed 44% of the annual family income, and 26% earned more (at least 10% more $) than their spouses.  These trends appear to be a direct result of trends in higher education.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, since 1982 women have been earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, and since 1981 more master’s degrees than men.
So as men and women are both taking on more similar breadwinner roles, they are also taking on more similar caregiver roles.  Fathers are now spending significantly more time each workday with their children.  In particular, Millennial (or Gen Y) fathers, (those under age 29 in 2008,) spend more time with their children than both Gen X fathers and mothers (age 29-42 in 2008.)
The good news is that it has clearly become more acceptable for men to be more involved in childcare and family responsibilities.  The downside is that men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly, especially in dual-earner households.  
As noted in the Families and Work Institute study’s conclusion, “Companies cannot assume that traditional attitudes or gender roles prevail.  They need to assure that both women and men are helped to succeed at work and that both men and women are helped to succeed at home.  Greater stress and strain on the home front rebounds negatively on work.”  For the full report, go to www.familiesandwork.org.
With Father’s Day approaching in June, it’s a good time to acknowledge the dads who long for that work-life balance just as much as the moms.  As more workplaces are open to flexible work arrangements (such as part-time, flextime, telecommuting, etc.), work-life balance will become more of a reality for both mothers and fathers.

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