Recent Pew Survey Shows Progress and Challenges for Dads’ Work-Family Balance

Recent surveys show that more dads are stepping up at home, while maintaining their commitments to their careers. In many ways, this marks progress, but also presents challenges to involved working dads. How can we better handle these challenges?

A slideshow of Pew’s Findings:
Modern Parenthood
Men Are Committed to Both Work and Family

There is growing evidence from the recently released Pew Research Center study of parenthood, as well as from Boston College’s Center for Work and Family and the Families and Work Institute that men are facing increasing work-family conflict and stress as they expand their involvement in the home and with their kids, but continue to feel pressure to provide and to stay fully dedicated to their employers.

In some ways, it is the converse of what working women have been facing for some time. Men are expanding their commitment to home, while facing pressure to maintain their time and commitment in the workplace- in short, men face many of the same challenges as women in terms of “having it all”.

The Data

Some highlights from the Pew study include:

  • Roughly 60% of two-parent households have two working parents. In those households, on average, fathers spend more time than mothers in paid work, while mothers spend more time on child care and household chores. However, when this time is combined, fathers and mothers are carrying an almost equal workload (and this may even be understating men’s contributions)
  • Fathers have nearly tripled their time with children since 1965.
  • 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it very or somewhat difficult to balance work and family responsibilities.

These findings are consistent with other recent studies:

  • The Boston College Center for Work and Family’s excellent 2011 New Dads study found that 70% of working dads stated their family role was to be both caretaker and provider (as opposed to less than 10% who chose only one role or the other), and 65% agreed that both parents should equally share caregiving responsibilities. Men reported an average of over 3 hours per day with their children
  • Kathleen Gerson’s 2010 book, The Unfinished Revolution, also found that, among the under-40 crowd, 80% of women and 70% of men desire an egalitarian marriage in which both partners share breadwinning, housekeeping, and child rearing.

Great! So, to everyone’s benefit, men are becoming more involved in day-to-day family life, and aspire towards more egalitarian relationships. So, why all the stress and work-family conflict? Well:

  • Work hours for men remain relatively consistent over time, even as family commitments have dramatically risen (up 10 hours/week since 1965, according to Pew)
  • Even today, 80% of the sole or primary financial providers for families are men (and even among dual-career couples, men are far more likely to be the primary financial provider). This puts a lot of pressure on men to provide as opposed to pursuing more meaningful career paths or spending more time with family
  • And men also put pressure on themselves. To wit: the BCCWF study found that 76% of working dads stated they wished to advance to a position of greater responsibility in their company, and 58% expressed a strong desire to move to senior management.

In sum, fathers are taking much more active roles in their families- the recent progress is unmistakable. However, men still face high levels of real and self-imposed work pressure.

In light of this data, here are my thoughts about how men can face their work-family challenges:

  • Fathers need to prioritize among life goals and roles and make fully conscious choices, knowing that there are trade-offs and that priorities can change over the course of a lifetime (see here)
  • Couples need to continually communicate about what arrangements are best for the family, and what is best for each individual (see here)
  • Workplaces need to allow more formal and informal flexibility- the New Dads study also found that over 70% of working men used informal flextime or informal part-time telecommuting, but less than 10% of men used formal WF policies, citing fear of negative career consequences.
  • Men need to be strategic about negotiating for work flexibility (see here), and should actively pursue informal or invisible ways to address family concerns. With effective informal arrangements, men (and women) can better balance work and family responsibilities, continue to perform at a high level of work, and escape being branded as less serious about one’s career.
  • Workplace Cultures and Societal Expectations need to change- To put family on par with career is somehow still too progressive for many organizations and for society as a whole. Articles entitled Real men don’t need work-life balance are still being published.

What do you think about these surveys’ findings? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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13 thoughts on “Recent Pew Survey Shows Progress and Challenges for Dads’ Work-Family Balance

  1. I saw this earlier and haven’t had the chance to look at the numbers/conclusions yet, Scott. I did think of your blog when it hit, though. I’ll be writing about this soon, too.

  2. Scott – I’m so glad you’re thinking and writing about these things. I completely agree that “Workplace Cultures and Societal Expectations need to change” – any recommendations on how to make that happen?

    Also, I know this isn’t the main focus of your efforts, but in this case I think working to address the pay gap between the genders would also be helpful. If women had the same career opportunities as men and received equal pay for the same work, men might not have to feel so much pressure to be the primary provider for their family.

    • Hi Ernie- Thank you very much

      You make an excellent point about workplace culture- Culture only changes slowly. I think as more managers (men and women) who deal with/have dealt with work-family challenges rise in the ranks, things will slowly get better. Of course, we can all do our part- culture only changes with thousands of small decisions.

      I know it is heresy in some parts, but I believe the gender pay gap can be almost fully explained by career choices as opposed to gender discrimination. in fact, Warren Farrell, in his book “Why Men Earn More,” found that 98% of the pay gap is easily explained by different decisions men and women make about careers.

      But I do agree that being the sole or main provider does result in stress and pressure. Couples need to really think about their finances, the life that they want, and how to get there together (I wrote about this in a piece Two Incomes Are Better Than One*)

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