Two new studies show that while men are as likely as women to say they need time off from work to care for babies, aging parents, or sick family members, men are less likely than women to take unpaid leave and they take shorter paid leaves than women. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times notes that both new studies find a gulf between men’s desires to be more involved with caregiving and with reality. In other words, men are finding it difficult to balance career and family—something women have known for decades. Even though men are more likely than women to have access to paid leave, they don’t take it or don’t take all that they could. Women, on the other hand, will take unpaid leave because they have to.
Why is this happening? Miller summarizes the two studies as saying that the primary cause of men taking less leave, when it is available, is that when challenges arise with balancing work and family, both women and men tend to resort to traditional roles where men are breadwinners and women are caregivers. These decisions have long-term consequences for women’s careers and account for a large portion of the gender-pay gap.
The first study, a report from the New America summarized by Miller and conducted by the NORC study at the University of Chicago, included a nationally representative sample of 2,966 Americans. They found that men were only slightly less likely to have taken family leave, but when they did, the time off was shorter. Just over half of the men in this study, and slightly more women, reported that one reason men don’t take leave is because “caregiving isn’t manly.”
The second study reported by Miller was conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, which focused on 1,240 white-collar workers at four companies that offer gender-neutral paid leave. This study found widespread support for leave, yet women were much more likely than men to take the full amount of leave offered by their company. Men say they want it, but they don’t take it when it becomes available.
Why? Traditional gender roles are deeply embedded in societal and family cultures. Miller surmises that both family members and people in the workplaces give subtle messages about what is acceptable gender-role behavior—even in workplaces that offer gender-neutral paid family leave—which then affects the decisions of men about whether to take family leave or for how long. Both of the new studies recommend changes that can make a difference in shifting gender-role expectations and encourage men to take family leave:
- Senior male leaders can be role models who take family leave themselves and talk about being fathers.
- Men need to see that their male colleagues who take leave are not penalized.
- Managers need to encourage men to take family leave.
- Organizations can make full-length paternity leave the default, requiring men to opt out if they want to take less leave.
- Organizations can put systems in place to help cover the workload of women and men who take family leave.
- Fathers can be included in parenting groups and flextime policies.
These types of changes in attitudes and structures can make a difference. Without them, traditional gender roles that limit the ability of fathers to have the relationship they want with their children—and that limit the ability of mothers to have full careers—will stay in place.
What else do you think can contribute to changes in gender-role expectations?
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