Report Explores Men's Rising Work/Family Conflict

By Kathy Gurchiek July 7, 2011

Fathers in two-income families feel more work/family conflicts than women, according to The New Male Mystique, a report released June 30, 2011, by the Families and Work Institute (FWI).

The report, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the IBM Corp., is the first to take the data set from FWI’s most recent National Study of the Changing Workforce and explore in depth the underlying reasons for this conflict, according to the FWI.

“There is an attitude change,” FWI President Ellen Galinsky told SHRM Online. “Men are more family-centric and wanting to be more involved with their families. There is a change, no question.”

The ‘ideal’ man today not only is a good employee working long hours but is involved as a husband or partner, father and son, according to Galinsky, one of the report’s authors. She presented the findings at the 4th International Conference of Work and Family July 4-6, 2011, in Barcelona, Spain.

Feeling the pressure to “do it all in order to have it all (is) the essence of the new male mystique,” she stated in a release. The amount of time men spend working is more important in predicting the work/family conflict they feel than the time they spend on child care, chores and leisure activities, the report found.

Trying to 'Do It All'

Among the findings:

Men who work 50 hours or more per week are more likely to experience that conflict than those who work 40 to 49 hours per week (60 percent vs. 39 percent, respectively).

Men working in demanding jobs are more likely to experience more work/family conflict than men whose jobs are moderately demanding (61 percent vs. 44 percent, respectively).

Fathers who are part of a dual-income couple are more likely to experience conflict. They work about three hours more per week than men their age without children.

Many fathers would prefer to work less, but they put in long hours to earn money for their families.

“Men may be where women were a couple of decades ago … where women had to be the superwomen,” Galinsky said. Men “are trying to have it all and do it all. I think women have relaxed that view on themselves.”

However, while men are holding fast onto the traditional role of breadwinner, they are more involved with their families than in years past and are spending on average more than an hour a day with their children, she said.

“I just hear echoes of ‘The Cat’s [in the] Cradle’in conversations with men,” Galinsky said, referencing the 1974 song by Harry Chapin that points out the fleeting moments a father missed with his son because the father was too busy working.

“Most people during these periods of economic uncertainty have seen someone give their all to a company only to lose a job. The rules have changed. You can give your all and you don’t have anything for it. ‘Who’s going to be holding my hand when I’m on my death bed?’ Honest to God, that’s how men say it,” Galinsky said.

Kerstin Aumann, senior research associate at FWI, is the report’s lead author.

“For some men—those with work-centric or strong traditional values—the world has changed too much, while for others—especially those with family responsibilities—the world has not yet changed enough,” Aumann stated in the release.

Having supportive supervisors and co-workers and a culture at work that supports flex options can reduce work/family conflict in men who are work-centric or who are fathers that are part of a dual-income couple, work in a highly demanding job, and put in more than 50 hours a week, according to the findings.

Having access to specific types of flexibility— being able to take time off during the workday to attend to personal or family issues and receiving time off to care for a sick child—can reduce the conflict men experience, according to the findings.

The sample for the study included 1,298 men drawn from the FWI’s 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce, a telephone survey of the U.S. workforce conducted every five to six years. Respondents do not include men who are unmarried or without a partner, who don’t have any children, who don’t have children under 18 with whom they live, and who don’t live with any other relatives.

In February 2011, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) announced a major multiyear partnership with the FWI called Moving Work Forward. On Nov. 8-10, 2011, the two are co-presenting the conference, Work-Life Focus: 2012 and Beyond, in Washington, D.C.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.​

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