Recently my company, Break Media, conducted a six-month study focused solely on men. The study included both qualitative and quantitative components, surveyed 2,000 men and was focused primarily on defining "What it means to be a man in 2012." As a married father of three kids, I found the results to be relevant and in many ways therapeutic, as they made me realize that many men are struggling with the same issues I am.
According to our findings, men today are primarily interested in being good-hearted, a good friend and in taking care of those around them, including friends and family. Men are increasingly comfortable being caretakers of their children and are taking on more of a role in household shopping and chores. In fact, 68% of men said they would sacrifice career advancement for more time with the family, an astounding 55% said they would love to be a stay-at-home-dad and over 80% said they are solely responsible or heavily involved in grocery shopping, house cleaning, laundry and cooking evening meals. Men today have different goals and values. And today, like women have done for decades, men are increasingly trying to balance work and family life and are now trying to "have it all."
There are many factors we can look towards to identify what has driven these changes in the male mindset. For one, women are increasingly playing a larger role in the workforce -- only 51% of men in our survey identify themselves as the primary breadwinner in the family. Further, women are graduating college at a higher pace than men and men fared worse in the recession than women, suffering more than 70% of job losses. For many men, the focus on family is a financial necessity as much as it is something they hoped for. In the qualitative portion of the study, many men whose careers were not impacted also mentioned the recession itself as a factor in putting family first.
Technology has also allowed men to develop a deeper relationship with their children. Twenty years ago, people who worked late would remain in the office until after the children were asleep. If they traveled for work, they would be lucky to speak with their kids at all. On a recent business trip, I was able to FaceTime with my family daily, even while walking down the streets of New York City. I routinely come home to put the kids to bed before getting out my laptop and working into the night. Technology also allows me to stay more closely involved with their day-to-day life as many schools now send email updates about class activities as well.
Men now have the ability and the desire to be involved in their families like never before, but that does not mean other responsibilities have subsided. The same technology that enables people to see their families also connects them more easily with their office. They are bonding with their families more consistently, but that only makes it more difficult to not see them when work necessitates it. As a result, most of the men I know feel like they are torn daily in many directions. If that sounds familiar, it is because women have felt this way for decades.
While many men and women may feel that these changes are desired and even long-awaited, the changes also have a strong potential to complicate the male-female dynamic even further. It is too early to tell yet if the nirvana of work-life balance will be reached, with many couples happily sharing the load of career and home responsibilities, or whether the new dynamic will indeed make both partners feel less satisfied, less accomplished and more burdened by increased pressures to succeed on both fronts. It may be the case that what suffers most is the relationship, stretched very thin by countless priorities.
Further, will men morph into the friends, partners or spouses that women actually want? Our survey said more and more men do dishes, clean up around the house, carry kids in Baby Bjorns and change diapers. At the same time, women got together in big groups to see Magic Mike, a film about well-cut male strippers. The best-selling book of 2012, Fifty Shades of Grey, was an S & M tale couched as a love story. Recent billboards for the new show Chicago Fire certainly seem to be selling the men as much as the show's plot. A recent Old Spice campaign even mocked this by having the very fit Isaiah Mustafa claim "I'm the man your woman wants you to be." These developments seem to indicate that woman also want men to be sensitive but masculine, fit and heroic. Soon enough we may have men protesting the media's portrayal of them as an unfair bar for them to live up to. Sound familiar?
Adam Carolla recently published a book titled In Fifty Years We Will All Be Chicks. While that may not be entirely true, what is clear is that men in 2012 are motivated differently than their predecessors with their heavy focus on being well-rounded, prioritizing family and community. What remains unclear is the longer term impact this will have in the workforce or at home and if everyone is better off by men trying to have it all.