By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
2:14 PM PDT, July 5, 2011
A growing number of men are now suffering from the seductive promise that they can have it all: the comforts and rewards of a fulfilling family life, a job that brings satisfaction and a paycheck big enough to support the needs of the aforementioned family, and freedom from conflict between the demands of each.
That's the conclusion of a new study by the New York-based Work and Family Institute, titled "The New Male Mystique." The study, based on a nationally representative cross-section of working men, updates one conducted more than 30 years ago by the Department of Labor.
A lot's changed since 1977, when the Labor Department last did its "Quality of Work" study. Today, more men define an ideal man not only by his ability to support his family with his work, but by his role as an active and involved father, spouse or partner, and son. And economic realities have conspired to make that balance even harder to achieve: average wages for men have remained flat (and even declined a bit) in recent years; long hours, escalating job demands, greater job insecurity, and boundaries between work and home life that have broken down.
In 2008, 49% of employed men with families reported they experience some or a lot of work-family conflict--up from 34% in 1977.
While the circumstances of some of the stress may be unsurprising--60% of men in dual-earner couples report substantial conflicts in the demands of work and family, as do men with children under 18 living at home (55%) and men who work the longest hours (60% of those working more than 50 hours a week, versus 39% of those working 40-49 hours/week).
But others may be unexpected: 54% of men who hold traditional views of men's and women's roles reported conflict between the demands of home and work, while 40% of men who rejected such traditional notions did. And men not living with a spouse or partner, including single dads, were less likely to report high levels of family-work conflict than those who were partnered.
Querying men on attitudes and policies at their workplaces, the Families and Work Institute discerned what factors lessened conflicts between work and family: men who felt their supervisor wanted them to succeed reported less work-family stress, as did men who reported they had supportive coworkers. The report found that having flexibility to schedule work and time off helped reduce work-family tensions, but only if a man felt he could use that flexibility without fear of being branded a less committed worker.
Finally, technology is a key and confounding factor in men's home and work lives. While it appears responsible for allowing men to get more accomplished in their work lives while keeping up with homefront needs, it has clearly blurred the boundaries between the two, with a resulting increase in tension. In 2002--the first year the Families and Work Institute asked the question--32% of men said they were contacted by people at work at least once a week outside of their normal working hours. By 2008, 41% were.
Almost half of the men whose work-home boundaries were most blurred reported substantial conflicts between demands of family and work; among the men never contacted by their employers outside of normal working hours, only 18% reported such conflicts.
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