Researchers from the American Psychological Association published a study that contradicts common conception and media accounts with the finding that both men and women report roughly the same work-family conflicts at similar levels. The research team took multiple years analyzing the findings it compiled from over 350 studies that were conducted over the course of more than 30 years involving over 250,000 participants from around the world.
The results of the study were described by lead author Kristen Shockley, PhD—a University of Georgia assistant professor of psychology—as rather surprising. The team published its study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. “We essentially found very little evidence of differences between women and men as far as the level of work-family conflict they report,” said Shockley. “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. There also is some socialization for it being OK for women to talk more about it than men,” Shockley continued. Research has previously been published affirming the notion that men commonly feel uncomfortable talking about work-family conflicts for fear of stigma, negative consequences for their careers or perceived threats to their masculinity.
Men often open up more easily if there is a measure of anonymity, according to Shockley. She credited the confidential surveys used in many of the 350 studies with aiding in making men feel more open. “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,” said Shockley.
Science Daily reports on some of the findings of Shockley and colleagues’ executive summary with a focus on recent years during which men “have increasingly become primary care-givers for young children, and fathers on average are spending more time caring for their children and completing household chores, although women still spend more time on both tasks. A study by the Pew Research Center found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Women also may face career penalties because of stereotypes that they are more family-oriented and less committed to their careers.”
About half of the 350 studies in the executive summary were conducted in the U.S. whereas the rest were more evenly spread throughout Asia and Europe. The team analyzed gender equality ratings for all countries involved, and they observed, much to their surprise, that women and men reported comparable work-family conflict levels irrespective of their country’s gender equality rating. Even so, the Middle East harbors a paucity of work-family conflict studies in publication, and it is a region thoroughly criticized for bearing a proportionally similar paucity in gender equality. Shockley felt this was an area where further research could potentially yield considerable benefits.
Minor disparities were found between women and men regarding work-family conflict once data was split into subgroups, but these disparities were still not big enough to be all that significant according to Shockley. Science Daily characterized this saying, “Mothers reported slightly greater family interference with work than fathers, as did women in dual-earner couples. Men in dual-earner couples reported slightly greater work interference with family, as did women when the sample was restricted to men and women in the same occupations.”
About half of the studies involved in the executive summary Shockley and her colleagues published were released or publication in 2010 or later whereas the rest span the course of several prior decades. Shockley and her team report that both women and men may very well perceive work-family conflict quite differently yet experience said conflicts at easily comparable rates. The research suggests women feel guiltier about allowing work to interfere with family matters due to traditional norms dictating that women serve as maternal caretakers for the household. Little research has been published, however, on facets of this issue, so Shockley said the team didn’t have much to work with in the meta-analysis.
Science Daily summed up her take on “A father’s traditional role” as being “the primary breadwinner so men may feel they are fulfilling their family responsibilities by working, resulting in less guilt.” Both gender roles, however, are evolving and shifting in the U.S. as women flood the workplace in comparison to the days of old and men take greater time to care for children.
Shockley advocates that the policies of the government and private companies provide significant support for currently existing work-family policies to ensure that they benefit both women and men optimally and take social privileges and disadvantages into consideration. She also recommends that this be inclusive of work arrangements and child care support in addition to paid paternity and maternity leave. The U.S. is ranked as one of the least progressive nations in the world in this regard.