Australian fathers are facing a tough question: can men really have it all?
New research suggests work-family conflict is a growing problem for men, as cultural change means modern fathers are more likely to be highly involved parents but without any easing of the traditional breadwinner role.
Separate research suggests the pressure of juggling work and family responsibilities for both mothers and fathers can wreak havoc on the parents' mental health, their productivity at work, their relationship with their partners, and the wellbeing of their children.
Laetitia Coles, a researcher at the University of Queensland who co-authored a recent article in the Journal of Sociology, said a significant minority of men combined long work hours with long hours looking after children.
More than 90 per cent of employed fathers work full-time and, of those, more than half work more than 45 hours a week, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Ms Coles said this suggested an enduring male breadwinner culture and even when fathers had workplace flexibility, it meant they could shift their hours rather than reduce them.
"The long work hours culture in Australia makes it really difficult for fathers to combine work and care," Ms Coles said.
The researchers analysed figures from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey over several years, looking at fathers in full-time employment in a heterosexual partnership.
More than one in five combined long hours of childcare with full-time work. Eleven per cent juggled more than 20 hours of childcare with 35-44 hours of paid work and a further 11 per with more than 45 hours a week in paid work.
The fathers most likely to work a lot and also spend a lot of time parenting were those with young children and those whose partners are highly educated or in paid work themselves.
The men’s own education, occupational prestige or income did not influence how long they spent with their children but fathers in male-dominated industries were less likely to spend long hours with children regardless of work hours.
Fathers from non-English speaking backgrounds were also less likely to combine full-time work with long hours of childcare.
Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Family Studies recently published research on the impact of work-family conflict on men as part of its Fathers at Work symposium.
Amanda Cooklin, a senior research fellow at Latrobe University, said the underlying research found that mothers (who were more likely to work part time) typically experienced work-family conflict after 30 hours a week of paid work, compared with 40 hours for men.
The research, based on 10 years of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, suggests one in three fathers experience psychological distress and feel depressed or anxious because of conflict between their work duties and family responsibilities.
Children also felt the impact, being more likely to experience social and emotional difficulties such as their ability to relate to peers, outward behaviour, or withdrawing from social activity.
"When someone moves into work-family conflict, the first thing we can see is their mental health declines, their parenting becomes more irritable, dealing with stresses and snapping at kids, and then there’s also an increase in marital dissatisfaction," said co-author Liana Leach, a researcher at Australian National University.
"The worst outcomes for the family are when mothers and fathers are in persistent high work-family conflict over time. When they exit work-family conflict, those outcomes get better."
Renn Holland, an architect based on the north shore of Sydney, is father to Lourdes, 3, and Enzo, 19 months. In a previous job Mr Holland came under pressure to change his parental leave plans.
"It was a very stressful time, it’s very hard not to have that permeate into family life and your relationship with your partner" Mr Holland said.
Dr Cooklin said it was in organisations’ interest to ensure men took up flexibility and didn’t overwork.
"There’s an established body of evidence that links work-family conflict to lower productivity, more absenteeism, less job satisfaction and higher turnover," she said.
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