Making Room for the New American Dad

Making Room for the New American Dad

The State of America’s Fathers 2016, the first report of its kind from MenCare and Promundo, takes a detailed look at the evolving nature of fatherhood in the US and finds that dads are playing a more hands-on role in parenting than ever before. Promundo-US founder and CEO Gary Barker and Michael Kimmel, executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, discuss the findings at Fast Company. While fathers are doing much more, they note, mothers still carry the bigger burden:

Over the past 30 years, American fathers have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by 65% on average. According to our study’s data analysis, nearly half (48%) of currently partnered American fathers now self-identify as either sharing responsibility with their partners or as their children’s primary caregiver.

However, while fathers have nearly tripled their time on child care (from two and a half to seven hours a week) and more than doubled their time on housework (from four to 10 hours weekly) between 1965 and 2011, mothers are still spending twice as much time on child care as fathers are (an increasein women’s total time on child care from 1965) and significantly more time on housework.

They also observe that the number of stay-at-home fathers has grown dramatically in recent decades:

There are nearly 2 million men in the U.S. who are full-time, stay-at-home-dads; that’s an increase from exactly six men in the 1970s. More than a trendy thing to do, it is a necessity for many households. In a national survey of stay-at-home dads, 23% said they stayed home with their children because they were unable to find work. Stay-at-home dads are half as likely to have a high school diploma as working fathers, and almost half of stay-at-home dads are living in poverty.

For most American dads, however, fatherly duties compete for their attention with full-time jobs—and the jobs usually win out. As men become more involved in parenting, sociologist Gayle Kaufman adds at the Conversation, our work culture needs to change:

A big part of the problem is that the workplace has not really adjusted to working women and caregiving men.

Instead the idea of the ideal worker, someone (usually a man) who can focus entirely on work while a partner (usually a woman) takes care of everything else, still holds power among employers. But the State of America’s Fathers report reveals that most workers have some family responsibilities, and only a minority of families fit the “traditional” breadwinner father, homemaker mother model. Only 20% of couples live off of one income. This means that most fathers have partners, female or male, who also work, and more single fathers have shared or primary custody of their children. These men do not have the choice to push off caregiving onto someone else.

Like working mothers, working fathers face stigma when they seek greater flexibility in the workplace. A very similar number of fathers (43 percent) and mothers (41 percent) think asking for flexibility could have a negative impact on their careers. In addition, there is evidence that leave-taking negatively impacts chances of promotion, frequency of raises, and performance evaluations, and these penalties are stronger for men than women. Men who seek flexibility are even seen as less masculine.

Kaufman’s point about masculinity evokes a recent post at the Harvard Business Review in which Avivah Wittenberg-Cox casts a critical eye on how, despite the advances we have made toward gender equality by expanding opportunities for women, men largely remain confined by the same old set of expectations:

Here’s the place we find ourselves in today: Women have spent the past century expanding the definition of “feminine” in almost every country on the planet. For the past half-century, the LGBT community has been engaging each other and the world in a conversation about what it means to live outside gender stereotypes. Remarkably, despite these decades-long conversations, for a cis-gender man, the definition of what it means to be a “man” is still quite narrow. …

Offices perpetuate the rigid strictures of masculinity. While gender biases and inflexible systems still hold back working mothers, research has found that fathers who take time off to care for their families may be even more harshly penalized at work. Even a short absence results in lower performance evaluations and fewer awards, something that doesn’t happen when men take time off for other, more “macho” reasons (such as taking a vacation or training for a marathon). Perhaps that helps explain why, in the UK this year, only 1% of fathers took advantage of a brand-new paternity leave policy.

Until we can have an inclusive conversation – with everyone, including men – about existing gender roles, expectations and stereotypes, we are bound to remain locked in them.

Pointing to a new survey on paternity leave, Emily Peck at the Huffington Post also argues for a shift in our attitude toward working fathers:

[W]hile more men want to be involved dads — and increasingly, we expect them to be — fathers still have to overcome a lot of judgment if they make that choice. A new survey about paternity leave from consulting firm Deloitte makes this painfully clear. Even though 64 percent of the working adults polled said companies should offer men and women equal amounts of paid family leave to care for a new child, more than half of respondents said men would be judged negatively for taking the same amount of leave as a woman.

Both men and women were hesitant to take leave. More than one-third of respondents said they wouldn’t take advantage of their company’s paid leave benefits because they worried it could jeopardize their jobs. And 41 percent of men and women surveyed thought they’d lose out on opportunities if they took the time away. But men were particularly worried: 57 percent of the male respondents thought that if they took leave, their colleagues would think they weren’t committed to their work. Mind you, these are the “lucky” dads who actually get paid family leave. Only 14 percent of employers offer paternity leave, according to a survey from the Families and Work Institute.

The scarcity of paid parental leave in the US, for both moms and dads, is the main reason why parents in the US are significantly less happy than non-parents, new research has found. Quartz’s Jenny Anderson and Solana Pyne elaborate on a recent study into the parental happiness gap:

Regardless of what country you live in, and what stage of life you might be at, having kids makes you significantly less happy compared to people who don’t have kids. … American parents are especially miserable on this front, posting the largest gap (13%) in a group of 22 developed countries.

But the research also shows that it doesn’t have to be this way. Every other country had smaller gaps, and some, including Russia, France, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Hungary, and Portugal, actually showed happiness gains for parents. The researchers, led by Jennifer Glass at the University of Texas, looked at what impact policies such as paid sick and vacation leave and subsidized child care have on closing that gap. It was 100%.

The authors of the State of America’s Fathers report advocate for public policies guaranteeing paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, such as those recently enacted in New York State and San Francisco—and those that have existed for some time in nearly every other country on earth. A 1 percent payroll tax, the report claims, can cover the cost of 12 to 16 weeks’ paid leave for all working parents.

Happy Father’s Day from Talent Daily.