The image of the 1950s father epitomized in the Father Knows Best TV series has changed dramatically. Men are increasingly realizing they have to be more involved at home.

But men face a work-life conundrum.

New research released this week, which is part of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, shows young men are more open to new roles.

This from a Harvard Business Review article written by Stewart D. Friedman, Practice Professor of Management at the Wharton School:

In 1992 we surveyed over 450 Wharton students, at the moment they graduated. Then, this past May, we asked the same set of questions of the Wharton undergraduates in the Class of 2012. In part, the surveys explored attitudes about two-career relationships. We asked students to what extent they agreed with these two statements:

Two-career relationships work best when one partner is more advanced than the other.
Two-career relationships work best when one partner is less involved in his/her career.

In 1992, men were much more likely to agree with both these statements than were women. Our preliminary analyses show that in 2012, however, there is a convergence of attitudes about two-career relationships: Men are less likely to agree with those statements than they were 20 years ago, but women are now more likely to agree; both have changed.

The reason for the switch, Friedman surmises is that young men today may be more egalitarian and women more realistic.

In his piece, Friedman cites the Families and Work Institute’s research report titled “The New Male Mystique” saying that the study affirms the fact that “young men are realizing they have to do more at home than their fathers did, and today’s young men want to do so.”

But FWI’s report also found that “men are under increasing pressure to do it all in order to have it all—be dedicated employees in increasingly demanding jobs, good financial providers and involved family members.”

Thus, the “ideal” man is still seen largely seen as the “breadwinner,” while also being involved in the family more.

I asked Friedman about how our research jibes with his findings.

“It’s a great question you’re asking here, and I’ve not done all the analyses so I’m not fully certain, but my quick take is that the two trends are not mutually exclusive,” he explained.

“We found that young men today are less inclined to believe that one partner in a dual-earner relationship should be more involved and advanced in their career than the other – that is, men now are more supportive of egalitarian norms,” he continued. “It’s possible for them to feel this way and still feel pressure to be breadwinners, for this is the legacy of traditional role demands, which we’ve clearly not yet shed, as you suggest in your question.”

Unfortunately, FWI’s Male Mystique report found the more men cling to traditional views the more problems they face.

Men who strongly agree with traditional gender role values—as 16% of men do—are more likely to experience work-family conflict than men who do not endorse traditional gender roles (i.e., do not agree strongly that it’s better for everyone involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children):

• 54% of men who strongly agree that it’s better if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children report some or a lot of work-family conflict.
• By comparison, only 40% of men who strongly disagree that it’s better if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children report some or a lot of workfamily conflict (a statistically significant difference, p<.01; n=1,275).

Perhaps men with egalitarian attitudes about gender roles are less likely to feel pressured by traditional notions of male success, including being the primary breadwinner for their families and having a successful career in the workplace and may be more comfortable with life as it plays out today at work and at home.

Sounds like Friedman’s male students may have an easier time of it when they get out into the real world and try to juggle work and family.

Why do you think men still feel pressured to be the breadwinners?

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