By Ellen Galinsky
Families and Work Institute
I prefer to think of changes in gender relations and values as an evolution, with ups and downs and uneven progress in different areas. It is not at all clear that changes in men’s attitudes and behaviors have stalled. In 1977, three-quarters (74 percent) of employed men somewhat or strongly agreed that it is better for all involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and family, compared with a bare majority (52 percent) of employed women-a large gap, which has narrowed over the years. In 2002, 44 percent of men agreed compared with 39 percent of women. By 2008, the percentage of women agreeing with this statement had fallen to 37 percent — but an even sharper drop had occurred among men, among whom only 40 percent now agreed.
We see similar changes in men’s involvement on the home front. Employed fathers increased the time they spent with their kids from 2 hours per work day in 1977 to 3.1 hours in 2008. An even stronger sign that gender evolution continues is that among the younger generation — the Gen Y’ers — fathers spend an average of 4.1 hours per workday with their children. Women acknowledge this change-in 2008, 30 percent reported that their husbands or partners took as much or more responsibility for the children as they did, up from just 21 percent in 1992.
But these changes have taken a toll on men, who appear to be experiencing what women experienced when they entered the workforce in record numbers-the pressure to “do it all.” My colleagues Kerstin Aumann, Ken Matos and I term this phenomenon “the new male mystique.”
In dual-earner couples, the percentage of fathers experiencing some or a lot of work-family conflict has jumped from 35 percent in 1977 to 60 percent in 2008, while mothers’ level has stayed statistically the same (41 percent and 47 percent, respectively). Among men, the greatest risk factors for experiencing work-family conflict are working long hours, working in demanding jobs, being work-centric (putting work first), or being a father in a dual-earner couple.
Gender evolution continues, particularly among men. This evolution could stall, however, if men don’t stop holding themselves – and being held by their supervisors — to work-centric standards, and especially if the workplace doesn’t adjust to the realities of dual-earner families. Men and women alike need more flexible work policies and supportive supervisors who respect the family needs of fathers as well as mothers.