Supportive work-family policies have become increasingly more common but evidence indicates that these policies are far more likely to influence women’s behavior and preferences than men’s. This paper explores how men’s gender ideologies and their perceptions of cultural norms shape their response to supportive work-family policies. The research shows that men’s responses to these policies are shaped less by their own personal beliefs, and by their perceptions of what is accepted and expected by their male peers.
A significant slow-down in progress towards gender equality has been well documented in recent years. One possible explanation is that in most workplaces, work-family policies and people’s opinions of these policies reflect more traditional norms around work-family arrangements. At the same time, work schedules are becoming increasingly unpredictable, with companies requiring their employees to be available for longer and for more irregular hours–such that the “ideal worker” is untethered by other obligations. In parallel, parents are under increasing pressure to devote more time and resources to raising their children. To help alleviate this tension in heterosexual couples, women are significantly more likely to prefer and seek egalitarian relationships (where both parents share the economic and household work) when supportive work-family policies are available. However, research has shown that men’s preferences remain largely unaffected by the availability of these policies.
Possible explanations for this relate to men’s perception that because they are often paid more than women in the same jobs, they have more to lose if they take time off or make more time in their day for caregiving. Men are also far more likely to be enabled by a spouse (who may work less or not at all), to work longer and more unpredictable hours. However, studies have also shown that men’s lack of interest in supportive work-family policies is more deeply rooted in their beliefs and masculine identities than in their concerns about economic consequences.
Men often face social stigma when they take advantage of supportive work-family policies because this is seen as a violation of traditional masculine norms.
Though there is some evidence that when there are standardized expectations (such as the “use it or lose it” national policy in Sweden), this increases the number of men taking advantage of these policies. This paper examines whether these social norms have greater influence over men’s preferred work-family arrangements than their own personal beliefs.
The study conducted a survey experiment with a diverse cross-section of young (18-32), unmarried men with no children in the US. The participants were asked a series of questions about their preferred relationship structure (i.e. egalitarian, self-reliant, primary breadwinner, or primary homemaker) under two conditions: with or without supportive work-family policies.
The findings show that men’s gender ideologies (their views on gender roles in the home and the workplace) did not influence how receptive they were to the work-family policies. Men with more progressive gender ideologies, not surprisingly, favored more progressive relationship structures overall. However, the presence of supportive work-family policies did not significantly increase the percentage of men (with either progressive or conservative gender ideologies) opting for more progressive relationship structures.
What did influence men’s preference for more progressive relationship structures in the condition with supportive work-family policies was men’s perceptions about masculine norms. For men who believed that other men wanted progressive relationship structures, their preference for egalitarian arrangements at home was significantly higher if supportive work-family policies were in place.
Men’s responses to work-family policies are shaped more by their perceptions of masculine norms than their own personal ideologies.
The study concludes that men’s responses to work-family policies (resulting in their likelihood to prefer egalitarian arrangements at home) are shaped more by their perceptions of masculine norms (what the men around them do, desire, or expect) than their own personal ideologies. While we tend to focus on the stalled revolution for women, men have been left behind as our expectations of their behavior has hardly changed at all.
- Implementing supportive work-family policies is not enough on its own – Women and men equally need encouragement and support to take advantage of these policies and men in particular need to be modelled egalitarian relationships by their peers and leaders.
- Work-family policies are also about solving a man’s problem – The dearth of supportive work-family politics holds back men who may want to take advantage of them, further compounding the issue as men are so influenced by the behavior of their peers.
- Men’s perceptions about masculine norms influence their reception to work-family policies – For men who believed that other men wanted progressive relationship structures, their preference for egalitarian arrangements at home was significantly higher if supportive work-family policies were in place. This indicates that an overall cultural change must take place; something that can be encouraged within organizations.