Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers

Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers April 9, 2013

In my last post, I suggested that as a society, we should be more encouraging of men who are trying to combine work and family. The problem that women confront in the workplace is about both about gender and a principle of devotion to work.  Many of the challenges that women face in balancing family and work are those also faced by men.

I am especially concerned with the working fathers who are serving as equal co-parents in their children’s lives, and fathers who are involved in relatively equivalent amounts (or more) of domestic work as their partners.   I’m not talking about fathers who make sure to make it home for dinner—I’m talking about fathers who are often making dinner. I recognize that there are a number of men without children who still struggle to balance work/family demands, but will focus this post more on working fathers. I also refer to these men as egalitarian men; this is not meant to be a theological statement regarding their beliefs about women in the church, but rather, a statement about their family practices and beliefs that reveal relatively equal roles in their families with their partners.  A blog by Dr. Scott Behson on Fathers, Work, and Family, provides an example of this population I’m considering (and also raises many of the same concerns addressed here – I suggest checking it out).

This population of working fathers is significant. Just last month, Pew Research Center released a report on the roles of moms and dads, with attention to how they spend their time and think about issues of work and family. While 56% of working mothers note it is very or somewhat difficult to balance work/family, 50% of men report the same thing.  Fathers are also more likely than mothers to feel that they spend too little time with their children (46% to 23%).  But perhaps most important for the topic of this post, I was interested in this chart reflecting who does more at home.

About 5% of women and men argue that men do more childcare; while close to half report that men and women are equally involved in childcare.  Further, when it comes to household chores, a majority of men (and almost half of women) say that fathers do as much or more than mothers.  While fathers and mothers both tend to see themselves as working more than their partners might, a large percentage of men are doing a lot at home.  Yes, there is a gender gap.  But when we concentrate on the median and mean, we can fail to recognize than in many families, this gender gap may not exist, while in others, it’s actually larger than the macro-level data reveals.

Challenges for Men

(1) In the last blog, I highlighted that these men are often paid less than men with traditional attitudes.  Compared to more traditional men, egalitarian men with significant commitments to family can both face significant obstacles in being hired and promoted.  Gillian Ranson, a sociologist at the University of Calgary, profiles a number of these working fathers in his article, “Men, Paid Employment, and Family Responsibilities: Conceptualizing the ‘Working Father.’”  These men often need to leave the office early, or desire not to work every day. They are not always on call, and rarely have a partner at home who manages domestic responsibilities.  The study from Cornell University (by Judge and Livingston) also suggested than egalitarian men may also be less aggressive in wage negotiations than more traditional men, and so suffer further economic penalties.

Such men may also be restricted (compared with traditional men) in the jobs that they are able to take. Families cannot easily move to support men in their careers.  Egalitarian men are more likely than other men to prioritize their spouse’s career; this may sometimes entail moving for their partner, which could accompany a downward career move.  They are often being compared with men who have a spouse who is dedicated primarily to the family; this is rarely something noted on their CV. While I have not seen longitudinal data, I would hypothesize that these men have less successful career trajectories than men with similar demographics and more traditional gender role attitudes.

(2) For fathers who are trying to be invested in their families, we often find that there are fewer supports for them than women. This is both an institutional and a cultural problem.  In some places, women are offered more flexibility than men when it comes to balancing work and family.   Second, even when paternity leave may technically be available for men, it may be discouraged. Ranson finds, for example, that mothers are still much more likely to take advantage of family-friendly initiatives.

(3) These men are also often lumped together as being ‘men’ who do not deal with the same challenges as women.  Increasingly in sociology we talk about intersectionality: the idea that gender cannot be understood outside its dynamics with class and race.  A recent article in the Journal of Marriage and Family by sociologists Rebecca Glauber and Kristi Gozjolko looks precisely at how issues of intersectionality can shed light on how men deal with work-family tensions.

 We found that fatherhood was associated with an increase in married White men’s time spent in paid work. The increase was more than twice as strong for traditional White men than for egalitarian White men. In contrast, both egalitarian and traditional African American men did not work more when they became fathers.  These findings suggest that African American men may express gender traditionalism but adopt more egalitarian work-family arrangements (“Do Traditional Fathers Always Work More? Gender, Ideology, Race, and Parenthood,” p.1133)

What I find interesting about their study is two-fold.  One, the story of working fathers cannot be separated from race, as the ‘traditional’ model often heralded is one predominantly adopted by whites.  Although not tested, this would lead me to suspect that some part of the wage gap between white and black men is in part due to their different family dynamics and work-family balance.  Second, it suggests that just as race is important in understanding the wages men receive, so are the attitudes that men have towards gender roles and family.

At the end of the day, I found more scholars investigating these issues than I had previously known about; however, I also found a real lack of empirical data regarding the challenges and costs that these fathers face.   And in our pursuits to decrease gender inequality and break down gendered stereotypes, it’s vital that such working fathers are supported.

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  • Thank you for highlighting my work and blog in this area. I agree that work-family issues are vital for both men and women, and is vital for rising loving, healthy families.

    • Amy Reynolds

      Scott — Was really encouraged to find your site, and hope our other readers visit it. You have some great resources on there. I think I may have failed to highlight what you point out in this comment — that this isn’t just about the adults, but also about something that’s positive for children and families.

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    Egalitarian men may often self-select for careers that are less demanding and more flexible, which may be why they tend to earn less. This is pretty much mirroring what many women have had to do for a long time. What should not be accepted without critical examination: the idea that employers are entitled to an unlimited demand upon an employee’s life. Is “career success” really worth it when one’s entire life – or at least one’s entire family life – must be sacrificed?

    Maybe what is really needed is for both husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, to strive for that egalitarian balance that enables both to be true partners and helpmates in their marriage and their family. If that isn’t convenient for some employers, then maybe they need to move quicker toward replacing people with robots that don’t have lives of their own.

    The necessary consequence of this, however, is that you can’t have it all. If you are going to have a life outside of work, then maybe you are indeed going to have to lower your career expectations and ambitions, and downsize your lifestyle accordingly. Affluence and egalitarianism might be mutually exclusive in practice. If both men and women are going to be egalitarian in their marriage, then they might also be well-advised to accept that they are also going to have to live pretty frugal lifestyles and make do with less money. Especially for people committed to Christian values, one would think that this would be a no-brainer. We should be all about valuing people and our relationships with them a lot more than we value things.

    The old saying about nobody on their death bed wishing that they had spent more time at the office, but a lot of people wishing that they had spent more time with their families, should serve as a bright searchlight pointing out the direction we all should be choosing.

    • Amy Reynolds

      Stefan, thank you for your thoughts. A couple comments (I won’t address everything you said!) Yes, there are choices that all people make regarding the workplace that has something to do with pay differentials, but the story is too often painted as ‘women make less because they prefer less demanding jobs.’ That’s actually not true. Women who note being parents are discriminated against in hiring, for example, that has nothing to do with choice. Men asking for paternity leave, I suspect, are assumed to be less devoted to work (as mothers are), when they could do the job just as well as the male in a traditional role. Second, you’re also right to point out that work and home are not the only two pieces of the puzzle. Where does time spent on diversions fit in — as well as time spent devoted to other communities (like the Church)?

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    One other thing that requires critical examination: The time guys devote to diversions rather than to either work OR helping out at home. A lot of guys spend a huge amount of time watching sporting events, or engaged in outdoor activities or hobbies, etc. If, in the meantime, the wife is trying to do it all, both working outside the home and doing the bulk of the parental and household chores, then it should be no surprise that resentment first simmers and then boils over. We value sports and hobbies and diversions of all types far too highly in this society, and men and their male culture are especially guilty of this. It is all but impossible to maintain a good home life & work balance if you also try to throw lots of time devoted to these self-indulgent diversions into the mix. Most typically what happens is that it is the home life that suffers. Thus, if a lot of men are not carrying their fair share of the load at home, it often isn’t because they are too busy at the office, but because they are watching a game with their buddies or out on the lake fishing. That might be fun for them, but it is no fun at all for their wives or their kids. This needs to change.

  • amanda

    You lost me for a minute because I personally never see these egalitarian men, but I do believe they are out there and it is just important to address the problems they face because of it as it is to address those of working mothers. I can’t even guess at a solution. So much would need to change in order to truly value and not penalize working parents and I’m not sure it would even be fair to make those changes, but men do need to be addressed if there is to be a discussion.

    • Amy Reynolds

      Amanda — Yes. I totally understand these sentiments. As I think about the working egalitarian fathers I know, I can easily name who they are. It’s more likely they are a spouse of a colleague than a male colleague (in my particular case). I’d love to see these men gain more support, and be more prominent in the workplace — I think it would help women to have male peers who are also challenging some of the assumptions about family and the workplace. And I agree, change is not easy. Thanks for these comments!

  • B-Lar

    Good article!

    I dont think egalitarian men will become more prominent in the workplace, although I certainly think it would be a good thing if they did.

    No matter what any company says about its ethical preferences, the bottom line will always be the bottom line. It is the men who are willing to sacrifice family for work (or ideally, those who do not even have dependants) who are more valuable to a company. Its good to see an attempt at the debate though!

    • Amy Reynolds

      B-Lar – Thanks for these comments. Actually, I would argue this isn’t just about productivity, even though I agree that is part of the equation. That is, many times employers assume that mothers (I haven’t seen the same data with working fathers who have substantial home responsibilities) will be less committed, and research has shown that they are not ‘worse’ workers that those without commitments. That is, workers suffer a penalty for being committed to home that’s not just about time at the office (this is why we see women who list the PTA on their CV discriminated against in jobs; currently we don’t see this with men, partially because employers assume it doesn’t really means the same thing). Yes, I agree that part of this is challenging current commitment to work paradigms that seem to require a stay-at-home spouse; but part is also recognizing that commitment to home doesn’t always entail worse workers as assumed. I’d also add that analysis shows that having children actually makes men more successful (versus the opposite effect for women); however, this data doesn’t usually consider men’s commitment/time spent at home, and the difference with more traditional or egalitarian fathers.

  • This study seems to sidestep the problems of single dads. They may or may not consider themselves egalitarian, but the issue affects them even more than couples, because they don’t have a built in backup to deal with issues with the children.

    • Psy

      Is suppose if you wanted to put a label on me egalitarian might fit, before I found myself single with a 4 and 5 year old I worked to live, not live to work. During good economic times I manged to get a lot of hours in and provide while pushing myself and during hard times which are the good times because it was more time spent with the kids.
      I still managed to sneak is collage classes, achieve personal goals like getting my pilots license and my hot rod hobby though it took a toll on me. Personally I was happier as I no longer had a partner that seemed to be working against the best interest of the family, heath clubs, fancy cars with unnecessary car payments. more interested in socializing than focusing on the family first. Years latter I’m glad to see how much my son devotes time to his kids and though my daughter doesn’t have kids she is very popular and loved by her friends kids.

      • Amy Reynolds

        Thanks for sharing your story. Just as the above commenter noted, the challenge for single dads (and moms) is in many ways greater than those for fathers with dual-career partnerships. Glad to hear that your parenting has clearly affected your children in really positive ways!

    • Amy Reynolds

      Ann — Glad that you commented here. Yes, I omitted the case of single dads here. This was part driven by data, and in part to dispel the misconception that dads in two-parent families are always in ‘traditional’ relationships (here, talking about practice, not ideas). I would agree with you that the case of single dads deserves attention, and they are dealing with more issues than working fathers mentioned here. Thanks for bringing this up.