Changing Gender Roles Increase Men’s Work-Life Conflict

April 3, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Men | Women | Youth & Gen X

Though both men and women in today’s workforce are less likely to embrace traditional gender roles than they were 30 years ago, working men’s stress has risen more dramatically over the years because of increased household and childcare chores, according to a study from the nonprofit Families and Work Institute (FWI),? funded by IBM.

The first report from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), which traces the trends in men’s and women’s attitudes and actions over the past three decades, reveals that changing gender roles have significantly and specifically increased the overall level of work-life conflict experienced by men, from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008. On the other hand, the rise in women’s work-life conflict, which increased from 34% in 1977 to 39% in 2008, has been less dramatic and is not statistically significant.

Moreover, fathers in dual-earner couples are spending more time with their children but are experiencing more work life conflict than mothers. In 1977, 35% reported experiencing some or a lot of conflict. In 2008, that figure has risen to 59%. The level of conflict experienced by mothers in dual-earner families has not changed much during that time period (41% in 1977 and 45% in 2008).


Women Want Career Advancement

Women in dual-earner couples are contributing more to family income. In 1997 women contributed an average of 39% of annual family income, but that figure rose to 44% in 2008. In 2008, 26% of women living in dual-earner couples had annual earnings at least 10 percentage points higher than that of spouses/partners, up from 15% in 1997.

Among Millennials (under age 29), women are just as likely as men to want jobs with greater responsibility. In 1992, 80% of men and 72% of women under the age of 29 wanted jobs with greater responsibility. Today the figure is 67% of men and 66% of women. The figure reached its low point for both genders in 1997.

Motherhood Not an Impediment to Career

Today, there is no difference between young women with and without children in their desire to move to jobs with more responsibility. Whereas 60% of women under 29 with children and 78% of women without children wanted jobs with more responsibility in 1992, today the percentages are 69% (with children) and 66% (without children), FWI said.

Additionally, men and women are both less likely to embrace traditional gender roles. Only 41% of employees in 2008 believe it is better “if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children,” down from 64% in 1977. The drop is even more pronounced among men (74% to 42% vs. 52% to 39% of women). There is no statistical difference between men and women in their views.

Working Women Can Be Good Mothers

Greater proportions of both men and women agree that employed women can be good mothers, the study found. In 1977, 49% of men agreed (strongly or somewhat) that a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work. Today, 67% agree. From 1977 to 2008, the percentage of women agreeing moved from 71% in to 80%. Both men and women who grew up with employed mothers have greater acceptance of working mothers than those whose mothers did not work outside the home.

Fathers Spend More Time with Kids

Employed fathers, especially Millennials, are spending more time with children today than their age counterparts did three decades ago, while employed mothers’ time has not changed significantly. On average, employed fathers of all ages spend 3.0 hours per workday with children under 13 today compared with 2.0 hours in 1977. For employed mothers of all ages, time spent with children has remained at 3.8 hours. Today’s Millennial fathers spend 4.3 hours per workday compared with the 2.4 hours spent by their age counterparts in 1977. Mothers under 29 today average 5.0 hours compared with 4.5 hours in 1977.


Men also say they are taking more overall responsibility for the care of their children. In 1992, 21% of women said that their spouses or partners were taking as much or more responsibility for the care of their children as they were. By 2008, that percentage has risen to 31%.

Interestingly, FWI noted, 49% of men report taking as much or more responsibility for the children as their wives, indicating a perception gap.

The report states that the gradual increase of women in the labor force over the past half century, combined with various work life trends and economic pressures, has resulted in a shrinking gap between how men and women view their careers, family roles, and the fit between their lives on and off the job.

“Our findings are striking and surprising,” said Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of FWI and lead author of the study. “There are many firsts in this study – the first time that younger men and women feel the same about job advancement and the first time that there is no statistically significant difference between men and women in their views of appropriate gender roles.”

About the study: The report entitled “Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and At Home,” (pdf) examines the evolution of work-related gender roles over the past three decades. Data collection for the 2008 study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The survey includes representative samples of the US workforce every five years. Sample sizes average about 3,500, including both wage and salaried employees and self-employed workers, though this report focuses on wage and salaried employees. The first NSCW was conducted by FWI in 1992 and it has included questions originally part of the 1977 Quality of Employment Survey conducted by the US Department of Labor.

45th Parallel Design Ad

Explore More Charts.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This