Dads also struggle to 'have it all', study finds

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Women and men experience virtually the same level of work-family conflict according to a new study, which challenges the prevailing idea that it's women who struggle most with "having it all."

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that when it comes to work-interference-with-family (WIF) and family-interference-with-work (FIW), men and women "appear to be more similar than different."

"We essentially found very little evidence of differences between women and men as far as the level of work-family conflict they report," lead author Assistant Professor Kristen Shockley said. 

"This is quite contrary to the common public perception. The way this issue is presented in the media frames the way we think about it, and it creates a perpetual cycle. Women hear that other women are struggling with this issue, so they expect they will experience greater work-family conflict." 

As part of their study, Prof Shockley and her team reviewed 350 studies spanning three decades, and incorporating over 250,000 people from all over the world. And while the level of work-family conflict reported was similar overall, some differences were still evident among certain groups:

  • Mothers reported slightly greater family interference with work than fathers, as did women in dual-earner couples.
  • Men in dual-earner couples reported greater work interference with family
  • When both men and women had the same occupation, women in dual-earner couples reported slightly greater work interference with family than men.

The first difference, that of mothers reporting greater family interference with work than dads, won't be breaking news to many mums currently juggling meetings with the school run. "The presence of children significantly increases family time demands," the authors note, "and research suggests these demands tend to fall disproportionally upon women."

Prof Shockley also believes that while men and women may experience the same level of work-family conflict, they may perceive it differently.

For example, women, she says, may feel more guilt around work interference with family, "because of traditional expectations that mothers are caretakers." On the other hand, men, she explains, have traditionally been the primary breadwinner, and therefore, "may feel they are fulfilling their family responsibilities by working, resulting in less guilt."

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"There also is some socialisation for it being OK for women to talk more about [work-family conflict] than men," Prof Shockey said of the findings. 

"I do think it's harming men, who are silently struggling and are experiencing the same amount of work-family conflict, but no one is acknowledging it,"

The researchers believe the results have important implications - for family and for workplaces.

"There are many culturally embedded and communicated stereotypes within society that influence assumptions about work-family conflict as a feminine issue," they argue.

"Based on the findings of the present study, this seems to be a largely inaccurate assumption.

"Challenging such inaccurate stereotypes, would not only better facilitate men's use of available work–family resources and eventually achieve better work–family outcomes, but it could also shift norms for all employees.

" Specifically, if the use of work–family benefits became standard practice among working men and women alike, "punishment" as a result of these actions might be greatly reduced. This has the additional potential benefit of promoting greater gender parity overall in the workplace."