Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fathers and Work Family Balance: Mix Methods for Understanding Fatherhood Involvement and Enrichment Experiences with Marc Grau-Grau

Fatherhood is in transition: the traditional “distant breadwinner” model of fatherhood has eroded to a more nurturing role for fathers. Fathers are doing more care work, and work-family balance is increasingly a priority for men. At the same time, work-life conflict is increasing, leading to high levels of stress, absenteeism, and burnout, along with a lower fertility rate. In Europe, 21% of workers report that they “always” or “almost always” feel too tired when they get home from work to spend time with their families. However, few studies focus on understanding men and work-family balance.

Much of the research on work-family conflict has focused on mothers. We know that involved fathers are good for kids and for gender equality, but less about how these dual roles affect fathers and their work and family lives. This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Marc Grau-Grau, WAPPP Fellow 2016-2017. Marc presented three studies from his thesis on Catalonian fathers to better understand how patterns of paternal involvement may give some clues on how to promote gender equality in parenting.

Study 1: Understanding the predictors of fatherhood involvement 

Fatherhood involvement is positive for children and gender equality, but also for fathers and their jobs. The aim of the first study was to explore the care work contributions of Catalan working fathers with children under 10 to understand how patterns of fatherhood involvement differ based on metrics like education level, income, age, number of paid working hours, occupation, and partner’s occupation. The motivating research question is: Why are some working fathers more involved than others?

Marc hypothesized that well-educated fathers are more likely to devote more time to their children, especially in “developmental care." As the number of paid working hours increase, fatherhood involvement is expected to decrease. Finally, men in managerial occupations are more likely to devote less time to their children.

A sample of 471 fathers and their partners were asked to complete time-use diaries recording what primary and secondary activities they were engaged in throughout the day in ten-minute intervals. Childcare was operationalized into basic care (feeding, dressing, bathing), developmental care (teaching, helping, playing, reading), and secondary childcare. On average, fathers did 59 minutes of basic care, compared to 126 for mothers. Fathers also completed 33 minutes of developmental care, compared to 37 minutes for mothers.

As predicted, fathers with higher levels of education spend more time with their children. There is no clear trend between fathers’ income and childcare. Fathers in elementary occupations and in high-management occupations spend the highest proportion of quality time with their children. Younger fathers spend most time with children, but this effect could be because their children are younger or because these fathers might be unemployed. As expected, more hours spent at paid work means less time spent on care work. Finally, having an adult dependent is associated with a significant decrease in fatherhood involvement – by 29 minutes – all else being equal.

Study 2: Understanding the positive side (work-family enrichment)

Most research on work and family is based on a conflict perspective, under the assumption that time, energy, and attention are finite and that work-family conflict is a zero-sum game. However, an expansion approach may be more appropriate: high performance skills in one role may spill over into one’s other roles. This expansion of skills into other roles is known as work-family enrichment. Do the rewards and benefits perceived by working fathers in one role spill into the other role

In this study, Marc interviewed father and their partners. Seven of 20 fathers chose to do their interviews in the workplace, including 5 of 6 managers. The fathers described skills that they perceived that they learn at work that help them at home, including organization and time management, technical skills, people management, new perspectives, and cultural capital. In the opposite direction, fathers described skills that they perceived that they learn at home that help them at work, including sensitivity, patience, responsibility, people management, support, values, and long-term project management.

Fathers in high-level occupations described their work-family enrichment in terms of people management and cultural capital; fathers in lower-level occupations reported enrichment in organization and technical skills. This study reveals that enrichment is not the opposite of conflict and that soft skills are mainly developed at home.

Study 3: Understanding potential barriers to fatherhood involvement

What happens with these involved fathers? Having a child has an impact on fathers’ professional careers, but not the same effect as for women: previous research has established a motherhood penalty as compared to a fatherhood premium for having children. That said, fathers can receive backlash in terms of being a “poor worker” (that is, not committed 24/7 to their jobs) or a femininity stigma.

This study employed qualitative interviews on a different sample of fathers to examine barriers to fatherhood involvement. Marc identified five key barriers in particular:

  • Barrier 1: Poor organizational support. Though organizational policies for fathers exist, there is little institutional support for them, and fathers are rarely explicitly informed of potential options like flextime.
  • Barrier 2: Anticipation of negative career consequences due to transgressing the “ideal worker” norm.
  • Barrier 3: Personal obstacles to fatherhood involvement based on gender norms and self-image; many fathers reported barriers to fatherhood involvement linked to their masculine identity.
  • Barrier 4: Many fathers perceive that being a working father is not a legitimate reason to ask for more flexibility; they may ask for accommodations when completing an MBA or starting a new business, but not for spending time with their children.
  • Barrier 5: Money – Fathers perceive that using flex options is associated with wage reductions in a sort of “fatherhood penalty.”
Future potential work

There are a great number of possible research projects within fatherhood involvement. There is certainly more to do on the “sociology of thriving” and how fatherhood involvement can benefit organizations. On the flipside, more evidence on stigmas, barriers, and costs of fatherhood involvement could illuminate obstacles to gender equality in parenting. We look forward to hearing more!

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