07/05/2011 04:54 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2011

The New Male Mystique -- It's No Joke!

Men are experiencing increasing work-family conflict, more even than women.

In 1977, 34% of employed men living with at least one family member reported that their work and family responsibilities conflicted with each other "some" or "a lot." By 2008, that number had climbed to 49%. And for fathers in dual-earner families -- their work-family conflict has increased from 35% in 1977 to 60% in 2008, while that of mothers in dual-earner families has stayed statistically the same, now at 47%.

Fathers' work-family conflict at 60%, mothers' at 47%.

I remember the very first time I shared these findings from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce conducted by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) -- our ongoing nationally representative study of the U.S. workforce. It was at a seminar of business leaders who focus on work-life and workforce diversity issues. The business executives at this seminar literally laughed. They were so focused on the fact that the advancement of women into executive ranks seemed to be stalled that a concern about men and their work-family conflict seemed like a joke.

Since that seminar, researchers at Boston College and at WFD and the Alliance for Work Life Progress have probed what's going on with men and work life conflict and we have continued to dig into our dataset too. We just released a report called The New Male Mystique.

In our new report authored by Kerstin Aumann, Kenneth Matos and myself, we have begun to uncover what's behind these increases. It is:

  • Working long hours: Among the 38% of men who work 50 or more hours per week, 60% report experiencing some or a lot of conflict. Surprisingly, it's not the hours spent on child care or even housework by men, but hours spent working that affects work-family conflict.
  • Working in demanding jobs: Among the 22% of men with very demanding jobs, 61% experience some or a lot of conflict.
  • Being work-centric (which means putting work first): Among the 29% of men who prioritize work over their personal or family lives, 62% experience high conflict.
  • Simply being a father in a dual-earner couple, 60% of whom feel conflicted.

The finding that has received the most media attention is that fathers in dual-earner couples are working longer hours than men their ages without children. In fact, they work three hours more a week than men without children. More two in five (42%) work 50 or more hours a week, compared with one in three men their ages without children.

And that's where the joking begins again. Since the study came out, I have heard people say, "Well, no wonder men are working more hours. They want to escape from their families."

It reminds me of public hearing around the time family leave legislation was being debated. People asked why men should have parental leaves: "They would probably use parental leaves to play golf." I even heard it suggested in a mid-western state -- far from the land of alligators -- that men would use leaves to go "alligator hunting."

Of course, we all -- men and women alike -- sometimes want to escape from family life. But our data reveal that men really want to be more involved with their children and families. They are spending more time with their children than men did in the past. And even 31% of women say that their husbands take as much or more responsibility for their children as the women do, up from 21% in 1992.

In the national study, men who were working more hours then they wished (54% of men) were asked why they did so. Overall, 47% say that they need the money, 16% say they couldn't keep their jobs if they tried to reduce their hours, and 14% say that they need to work hours to keep up with the demands of their jobs. In an economy where men's wages have remained flat or declined slightly and where jobs are increasingly insecure, men want and need to be good breadwinners as well as involved fathers.

Today, men are experiencing what women experienced when they first entered the workforce in record numbers -- the pressure to "do it all in order to have it all." This is the essence of the "new male mystique."

We are hopefully learning not to joke (or make assumptions) about women's need to provide for their families economically and be involved parents. We likewise shouldn't joke (or make assumptions) about men's need to be involved parents and provide for their families economically. It is no joking matter!