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Fathers want to have it all, but wider society is not so sure

Photo: Chris Brown. Creative Commons.

Fathers are stuck between their need and desire to care more for their children, and to earn money in a world expecting them to sacrifice home for work.

“There’s not enough time. Period. To do a good job at work, to be with the family, and then actually to have some time to do things I might want to do.”

In the 1970s, employed mothers reported more work-family conflict than employed fathers, but by 2008 the tables had turned: 60% of fathers in dual earner couples complained of work-family conflict in USA, compared with 47% of mothers.

Our 2016 nationally representative study of the U.S. workforce, the National Study of the Changing Workforce, finds that mothers and fathers now struggle with work-family conflict to a similar extent. In addition, 60% of employed fathers and 65% of employed mothers feel they have too little time with their children and 73% of both who work 40+ hours feel this way.

What is going on? We think that these figures reflect the fact that the aspirations of employed mothers and fathers to support their families and to be close to their children are changing faster than workplaces and wider social attitudes.

More mothers are employed

In the US, 71% of mothers with children under 18 were employed in 2007. This is driven by economics: families need two earners. In fact, in 2008, women in dual earner couples earned 45% of family income.

Women’s attitudes to work are changing too. In 2008, women under 29 were just as ambitious as men about wanting greater responsibility at work.

And women are much more educated than they were. In 2005-2006 in USA 58% of all university degrees were granted to women.

Gender attitudes are changing

Attitudes are changing a lot. In 1977, 74% of men and 50% of women believed it is better if fathers lead on earning and mothers lead on caring. But by 2008, the feelings were very different, particularly among men. Only 40% of men and 37% of women expressed traditional beliefs in that year. So women and men are pretty equal about what they believe about gender roles.

Acceptance of employed mothers has grown too. In 2008, 74% of employees agreed that an employed mother can have as good a relationship with her children as a stay-at-home mother. In 1977 it was only 58%. Fewer men than women belief this, however: 68% of men and 81% of women.

But traditional social expectations remain strong

In 2016, 64% of employed Americans believe that men should contribute financially to the family, even if they are also caring for children.

American employees are less likely to agree if it is better for all involved in the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and family, The generations are equally likely to disagree with this statement, furthermore–35% of boomers and 38% of Gen Xers and Millennials.

A study in 2013 found that male and female managers paid a price in pay and promotion if they ever sought flexibility, but it was even more so for men. Flexibility seekers are seen as “less masculine”.

So fathers are stuck between their need and their desire to care more for their children, and the need to earn money in a world that expects them to sacrifice their home responsibilities for work!