Gender

Men Want to Spend More Time at Home – Even if it Means Taking a Pay Cut

Men should be able to stay home, too. Source: www.shutterstock.com

Source: www.shutterstock.com

We’re all familiar with what sociologists call “the traditional family”: a straight, married couple, with a male breadwinner who works long hours to support his family, while the woman stays home, takes care of the domestic work, and rears the children. Feminists have long campaigned against the factors which ensure that this the only option – for both men and women. Now, it appears that male breadwinners aren’t too happy with it either.

New research has shown that male breadwinners in high-status jobs, such as managerial roles, are more likely to want to cut back their working hours than other men: even if it involves a drop in their salary.

All work and no play

Here, we use the term “male breadwinners” to describe men who earn the majority of a straight couple’s income. We were unable to include same sex couples in our analysis, because limitations in the data restricted our ability to do so.

Using data on about 4,000 men from 12 western European countries, we found that male breadwinners work longer hours than single men, men who are equal earners and men whose female partner is the breadwinner. Of course, this is partly because male breadwinners have a partner who can take care of most of the domestic work, which enables them to stay at work later or start earlier.

Male breadwinners are more likely to feel overworked than other men. We found that the extra responsibilities, which come with high-status roles, contribute to these feelings.

Feeling overworked? Source: www.shutterstock.com

Feeling overworked? Source: www.shutterstock.com

Our study discovered that around 58% of male breadwinners with children would like to work fewer hours, even if it meant taking a pay cut. A similar proportion of male breadwinners without children (57%) felt the same way. So spending too long at work is not just a concern for fathers who want to have more time with their children. It’s possible that reducing working hours is seen as a step in the process of having a family, which starts even before there are any children.

We found that concerns about work-life balance remained significant for those who felt overworked, even when we controlled for many other factors such as whether their firm offered performance pay, and how long they had been employed there.

The full story

Of course, part of the story here is that high-status male breadwinners are more comfortable expressing feelings of overwork, because their higher incomes mean they can afford to earn less. Other working men – single men, men who earn the same as their female partner and men whose female partner is the breadwinner – were less likely than male breadwinners to want to work fewer hours. Even so, a high proportion (for example, 40% of equal earning fathers) of these other groups still said they’d like to reduce the time they spent working.

It’s understandable that male breadwinners are more keen than most to reduce their time at work. We know that both working long hours, and working longer than desired, are bad for your health and well being. It also means that you can feel that the job is preventing you from participating in family life and that you are too tired after work to enjoy things.

It’s also worth noting that male breadwinners do not hold more conservative attitudes to women’s participation in the workforce than other men in Europe. This stands in contrast to the findings of previous research in the USA.

Searching for solutions

Many firms tacitly endorse the status quo, by requiring long hours from their employees, without providing any options to reduce working hours for their higher status employees.

Some remedies to long working hours have been put forward, such as giving employees more autonomy at work. But many people who are managers, and responsible for other workers, already have the ability to decide on a daily basis how their work is controlled. The paradox is that when you have more control, you actually end up working longer hours. So having more autonomy at work does not necessarily prevent it from interfering with family life.

And although many companies pay lip-service to the principle of helping women, particularly mothers, to achieve a good work-life balance, many mothers leave work precisely because they are not given adequate support to continue. So, our findings support the case for businesses to recognise the importance of work-life balance as an issue which affects all of their employees; men and women alike.

The Conversation

Shireen Kanji, Senior Lecturer in Work and Organisation, University of Leicester.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

  • Swarnalatha R

    It’s a question of time management. If the male breadwinner has the ‘home-loving’ attitude, what prevents him from setting aside personal interests and plunge yourself totally in home and family, when present at home?

    i wanted my son to read a recent article on the role of fathers who can be ‘motherly’. At 16, i wanted him to realize that his dad is just such a father.

    No, I’m not singing paeans for my partner. But if your article could be re-written as a questionnaire on fatherhood, B – my ‘best half’ – would score very high on fatherhood + householder ratings. He does paid work outside, yes, but he does paid work at home too … earning the appreciation of his son and his mother-in-law!

    We began our life together as serving defence officers, with equal commitment to our work and to our home (though I had been quite reluctant to ‘settle down’ at all).

    From day one, it has been a journey of mutual support, whether it was kitchen work, home maintenance, child care or responsibilities towards in-laws. One of us would just seamlessly take on (a chore, any chore) where the other
    left off. Whatever our individual and shared commitments, home and family is always cared for. The result? Even though I’m not an equal-wage earner now, I never get the feeling that my work at home is ‘unpaid’, courtesy family participation, support and appreciation.
    I think we have learnt along the way (sooner rather than later) the importance of not being judgmental, the need for absolute openness, the inevitability of shared responsibilities, the possibility of one parent being seemingly over-burdened occasionally, and – most of all – simply-reposed trust.
    No, we are not an ‘ideal’ couple. We argue and fight too, including wars of silence!
    What may have helped us directly / indirectly?
    – An early understanding of the others strengths and weaknesses.
    – A preference for simplicity in all facets of family life.
    – Feminist / ‘masculinist’ tendencies if any put in the back-burner at the time of mutual commitment.

    I sometimes think soldiers are some of the best examples of the kind of ought-to-be-men you have written about.
    One truly wishes that among couples, each of them realizes the seamlessness of parents’ roles in the management of a family. And it’s most important that ego is never allowed a front seat. And if possible, offer Money a tertiary seat.