Gender equality starts with the recognition that idealized roles—at work and at home—constrain us all.
This four-part series on why gender equality is powerfully beneficial for men began with data. In comparison to men who share less equally with their partner or spouse in the care of their children, those men who are more involved:
- Are healthier, both mentally and physically, and live longer,
- Report higher marital satisfaction,
- Experience less pressure and stress, and
- Report higher job satisfaction and perhaps most importantly, higher life satisfaction.
While greater gender equality is associated with so many positive outcomes for men, many men have a visceral negative reaction even to the words believing that greater equality is ultimately a takeaway for them and a source of conflict and strife.
The first post in this series explored work-life integration and reported—based on a study of millennial dads conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family (BCCWF)—that the egalitarian men who were equally sharing childcare with their spouses and partners reported greater ease with balancing their work and personal lives than men who carried less than half of the childcare load.
The second post focused on men’s experiences of their work environments as well as evaluations of their career and income progression. The results highlighted the complexity for men in squaring their roles as parents with the societal norms of men as primarily career-focused. Egalitarian fathers reported the highest satisfaction with the experience of their work environments, feeling highly respected and a strong sense of belonging. Yet traditional fathers, who did not see themselves as primary caregivers for their children, were most satisfied [followed by egalitarian dads] with the rate of their career advancement and income progression.
In conversations with egalitarian dads, they were generally comfortable with the potential career trade-offs of being dual-focused on work and home. In many cases, their concerns about their careers never materialized. Egalitarian dads were far less comfortable with the potential family and personal trade-offs of a work-first focus which has become the cultural norm. This third blog widens the lens from a focus on work and career to exploring how satisfied dads were with their lives in the broadest sense.
The benefits of gender equality were readily apparent based on men’s input regarding their life satisfaction. Across the board, egalitarian dads reported the most favorable results in comparison to men whose spouses and partners played the primary caretaking role. Egalitarian fathers were more likely to indicate that:
- They were satisfied with their lives
- They would change almost nothing about their lives
- The conditions of their lives were excellent
- Their lives were close to ideal
More than four out of five millennial fathers who equally shared care of their children agreed they wanted to change almost nothing in their lives compared with 56% of traditional dads. Egalitarian and traditional dads were equally likely to indicate overall satisfaction with their lives—they agree and strongly agree with the statement ‘I am satisfied with my life’—but 36% of egalitarian men, compared with 24% of traditional men, strongly agreed.
In addition to experiencing key benefits such as greater career flexibility and less pressure to adopt the workaholic norms of modern day professional work, egalitarian dads stressed how sharing care with their spouses and partners played a powerful role in building and strengthening the important relationships in their lives.
A clear picture emerged, in my conversations with egalitarian dads, of a work-life design that prioritized professional work for both members of the couple. This dual-career orientation became an important enabler for women who felt deeply ambivalent about having children because they struggled to envision how to combine their professional selves with the parents they wanted to be. The ability to share the care work far more equally with their partners made all the difference.
A millennial dad shared, “[This approach] is really good for my wife’s career. She’s not working full-time and doing all the parenting stuff too. It allows her to work more, with less guilt. Minimizing the guilt is a significant thing for her. It’s good for her long-term prospects,” under
In sharing care, women and men often find a deepening of their relationship as they learn to communicate and negotiate far more effectively and to appreciate all that their co-parent brings to the complex job of raising a child. An egalitarian father described learning to walk in each other’s shoes:
“There is a lot more understanding between us. I hear so often from male friends who say I don’t understand why this did not happen or why my wife did that. [My wife and I] are both having shared experiences. We both understand what life is like for the other person.”
Egalitarian fathers were effusive about the opportunity to spend more time with their children and to know them more deeply. In articulating how the shared model of care was unique, another egalitarian dad said his children were equally likely to seek him and his wife out for nurturing and support. Dads were grateful for the chance to bond with their kids not realizing how fully sharing childcare would affect them so deeply:
“Now 6 years into it, my parenting is the best part of my life and not because I don’t like work. Parenting has let me be more of who I really am. It’s incredibly enjoyable and nourishing. It’s good for me from a holistic, spiritual, human development space.”
“People are working all the time and don’t get to be there with their kids. It’s the little things I understand in their lives – their homework, what they did at recess (that are so important.) I want to be there to bond with them, to understand them and grow with them. I figure if I can be there when they are young, it will help when they get older.”
Despite the benefits of strong bonds for both children and their parents, many dads don’t get the chance to know their children [especially young children] in that intimate way, full of the small details of their lives. Many egalitarian fathers said had they followed the more typical male path, with their wives as the CEO of their children, they would never have known what they were missing.
Conflicted Dads and Their Struggle
The BCCWF study of millennial fathers compared the experiences of egalitarian dads, traditional dads, and lastly conflicted dads who reported that while they should be sharing care equally with their spouse or partner, in reality, they were not doing so.
The high costs of this conflict were clear to see in the data. Conflicted fathers, struggling with a divide between aspiration and reality, reported the least favorable results on every question analyzed. They felt the greatest stress and the most pressure to prioritize work over family, as well as to put in long hours at work. Conflicted dads were most dissatisfied with their workplaces, their career advancement, and their income progress. Perhaps not surprisingly, these dads were least satisfied with their lives.
Interestingly, the mates of conflicted millennial dads had the highest level of education of all men surveyed. Their spouses worked close to full-time (80%) yet also managed the majority of care responsibilities. One could hypothesize that these highly-educated women felt underutilized professionally and frustrated with the skewed division of care work, which affected the relationship and stress level at home.
The Myths of the Ideal Worker and the Ideal Mother Are the Enemies of Gender Equality
Most men feel a strong drive to provide for their families and to maximize their incomes. They typically think the best way to do so is by privileging their careers, continually seeking career advancement which demands ever more of their time and energy.
Men struggle as their instinct to be highly involved fathers collides with work cultures and societal norms that define the “ideal worker” as someone who is endlessly driven, unencumbered and continually focused on work. The requirements of caretaking – demanding and often unpredictable – are antithetical to this worker ideal. Add to the equation the pressure working women experience to be “the ideal mother” and it is easy to see how many couples devolve into highly gendered roles once children come into the picture. Data shows that after children, men’s work hours ramp up while women’s ramp down.
But there is hope. There is great power in couples coming together to get on the same page about their shared vision – whatever that looks like – and how they will move toward making that vision reality. Gender equality starts with the recognition that idealized roles – at work and at home – constrain us all.
The last in the blog series will explore how gender equality is beneficial not only for men, but for their children, their wives and partners, and their workplaces.
Read More on the subject, here:
Research shows gender equality for men translates to greater career flexibility, more financial security, and more time for life outside of work.
Men’s experiences of and satisfaction with work and income