Men’s experiences of and satisfaction with work and income
This article is a follow-up to an earlier piece published on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. The central message was: Men in egalitarian marriages and relationships enjoy many benefits. This is not common knowledge. The article highlighted findings from a study of millennial fathers conducted by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, research from my 2012 book, The Libra Solution profiling egalitarian couples raising children, and highlights of recent conversations with egalitarian dads.
Research shows men who are more involved in the care of their children are healthier, live longer, and report higher marital satisfaction. Egalitarian dads in a 2016 study of millennial fathers experienced less pressure and stress, higher job satisfaction, and greater life satisfaction than dads in other family constructs where caregiving was not equally shared.
Today’s article focuses on men’s experience of and satisfaction with work and income. Future articles will examine life satisfaction and the benefits of egalitarian arrangements for men’s spouses/partners, children, and even workplaces.
The study of millennial fathers working for large companies in professional roles assessed how men experienced their work environments. Fathers were divided into three groups for analysis including traditional dads (where the fathers provided less childcare than their wives/partners and did not feel they should be sharing equally), conflicted dads (reporting they should share care equally but were not doing so), and egalitarian dads (who both thought they should and did share care equally.) Comparing the three groups, egalitarian fathers felt most respected at work—42% vs. 31% for other fathers—and far more connected to their workgroups with 57% indicating favorable results vs. 24% of traditional and conflicted fathers.
In conversations with egalitarian dads, many communicated clarity about and confidence with the role of work in their lives. One father talked about “not doing face time” and communicating that openly to his colleagues. Another suggested that, since he discovered that work expands to fit the time available, establishing time limits has proven beneficial in helping him structure his work to ensure delivering on key priorities. The clarity he has gained has helped him garner respect.
The research on millennial fathers explored the fathers’ satisfaction with their career progression. Perhaps not surprisingly, men in traditional family structures—who were likely to be most focused on their careers, given more specialized gender roles—were most satisfied with their career advancement. Ninety-one percent of traditional fathers, compared with 82% of egalitarian fathers and 71% of conflicted fathers, were satisfied or neutral with their career progress.
In conversations with fathers in egalitarian family structures, they discussed potential career trade-offs as well as unanticipated benefits of their highly-shared approach to raising their children. Some expressed concern that prioritizing their families could hurt their future career prospects. Given the “work first” cultural norm that is so prevalent and the use of time as a proxy for commitment, this concern is understandable. The majority of egalitarian fathers felt little trepidation about possible career impacts. For some, they had already worked through complicated emotions while for others, they felt clarity from the outset. In all cases, dads became clear about the upsides for them of a more balanced approach.
In egalitarian families, the career of the spouse or partner is a key decision-making variable, according to millennial father Michael Ramberg, a college rabbi and Hillel director with young children. Ramberg explained, “Generally it’s the wife who feels it [becoming a parent], not the man. She’s thinking ‘What about me? Why do I have to put my work on hold?’ In egalitarian couples, you seem to be setting up life in different ways with different goals and different metrics for what success means to you.”
Many egalitarian men felt pride in supporting their partners’ career aspirations and explicitly sought out career minded women, “I am not interested in a woman who had rigid thoughts about how I should provide financially, just because the man provides for the family. I would have found that attitude too conservative and restricting.”
For egalitarian fathers who saw and understood the decisions of male colleagues prioritizing work, they knew a career-first focus for them personally was the trade-off they were unwilling to make. One father stated, “I have colleagues who are male who would never fall into this role. They see it as a benefit that they don’t have to take care of all the busy work of being a parent. It’s easy to see busy work but I would argue that the busy work is the emotional work and it is important.”
Furthermore, potential worries about greater family focus often did not come to pass as was the case for Roger Trombley who cut back to an 80% workload, “If it impacted my career, then so be it. But I’ve found it really has not affected my career. I’ve gotten some of the best performance reviews I’ve ever had and I got a promotion. The career impact is something that did cross my mind but it did not come to fruition for me.”
In addition to exploring how men felt about their careers, the study of millennial dads also investigated men’s assessment of their income progress.
The pattern was similar to the one observed for career satisfaction with traditional fathers indicating the most favorable results followed by egalitarian and lastly conflicted dads. Eighty-four percent of traditional fathers reported feeling neutral or satisfied with their income progress. Comparable results were 78% for egalitarian and 64% for conflicted fathers. The respective figures for fathers “strongly agreeing” that they were satisfied with their incomes were: traditional 13%, egalitarian 7%, and conflicted 6% (1).
The role of provider is a very important one for men, whether solo or shared, and income is a clear metric for assessing the ability to provide. Income tends to be a key measure of social capital which further reinforces its importance for many men. Egalitarian dads are typically less oriented towards ‘maximizing income’ and more towards generating sufficient income to support the range of priorities in their lives such as flexibility, time with children and supporting their spouse’s careers.
An egalitarian dad articulated what he saw as a clear tradeoff in maximizing income: “I am parked near my daughter’s nursery school and I am looking at all these palatial homes. I know for a fact, because I talk with many of the moms, that their husbands are gone all the time. The moms are at home with the kids.”
Fathers described in conversations both the reality of financial tradeoffs and the sense of having enough:
“There were financial sacrifices but that’s always true. You know better vacations, nicer cars but I never felt the need to compare much. That served me well.”
“If I think about it, we are giving up quite a bit of money (versus working full-time) but we are gaining quite a bit. We are both engineers so we are well compensated. Sure we gave up doing some traveling but life did not change that much.”
The literature shows that income does matter. Having inadequate resources to care for your family is undoubtedly stressful, especially for men who, despite progress, still get assigned the provider role too often. Yet, beyond an income which provides for basic needs plus some extras (cited as about $75k annually), research indicates additional income does not affect happiness. While over the last half-century consumption of goods and services in the U.S. has risen significantly – substantially larger houses, more frequent travel, a host of high-priced electronic products, and eating out multiple times weekly – the level of happiness in the U.S. has not increased. Other affluent western Democracies have seen similar results such that the UN is considering measures of well-being beyond GDP (gross domestic product) to assess the health of nations.
In my experience as an organizational consultant working with large companies, there is a strong bias that more work time equates with greater productivity. This belief runs deep, even among the best companies seeking to create work cultures that attract and retain top talent. There is an untold (or seldom told) story of how putting boundaries on work time can be a powerful catalyst for developing improved skills for managing the intensity of work in the modern world. The Third Path Institute works with leaders in redesigning work to make more time for life.
A millennial dad recounted how being a highly engaged parent helped him professionally, “I’m having to figure out active parenting and being an active employee. I’ve learned about working efficiently and effectively. I have pretty clear boundaries about how much I can work and when I can work. I feel like I am very clear about what needs to get done and doing the stuff that needs to happen first, first.” Egalitarian dads also find that a greater focus at home can be an enabler for keeping the pressures of work in perspective.
Work is an important part of our lives for economic and emotional reasons. The data suggest there are rewards for men who focus primarily on work with regard to their perceived career and income progress. And egalitarian dads perceive more positive experiences of their work environments, feeling more connected to their colleagues and less pressure to prioritize work over family. Egalitarian dads tend to be mindful of their choices and are more comfortable with potential tradeoffs regarding work than their family lives.