A new survey shows that fathers with children at home work more than men without children. On average, both work more than women, whether mothers or not.
"Men are working longer to bring in more money for their families," says Ellen Galinsky, president of the non-profit Families and Work Institute, which produced the report. "In open-ended questions … their answers were about earning more money. I think the breadwinner image is a part of it, particularly for men with children."
The survey was of 1,298 employed men who have at least one family member living at home. Of those, 75% had a spouse who also worked and 49% had a child under 18 living at home. Here's
an article reporting on the survey (USAToday
The survey itself is about the difficulties of striking the work-life balance for men. I'll write more about that in a later piece, but for now I'll concentrate on the work habits of fathers and their consequences in the event of divorce.
What the article makes clear is that, more than men without children, fathers emphasize the value of supporting their families.
Kathleen Christensen, director of the Workplace, Workforce and Working Families Program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, says she's not surprised that dads are working longer hours.
"They feel a very deep and abiding responsibility to take care of their families," she says. "The father's identity as breadwinner is so ingrained in who they are."
That's true and those who track the social science on dads aren't surprised that dads work longer hours, just as Christensen said. What the study says and the article doesn't is that those longer hours result in greater conflict in those dads over how to allocate their time between work and family. That's understandable; the demands of fatherhood are additive to those of work. So a father who works longer hours and then tries to have more time with the kids is stretching himself pretty thin.
But what's more important is the fact that, while fathers work longer hours than non-fathers, the opposite is true for mothers. Moms with kids at home tend to work much shorter hours than women without children or with children over the age of 18 and therefore out of the nest.
As but one recent example of that, the Boston College study I wrote about recently found that, of the 963 working men surveyed, 57% of their wives/partners earned $25,000 per year or less. And those were well-educated women whose earning capacities are far higher than that. The simple fact is that, given the choice, those mothers opted to either not work at all (31%) or to work part-time (26%).
Stated another way, fathers work more so that mothers can stay home with the kids. It's a phenomenon we see time and again in study after study of men and women in all walks of life. Admittedly, it's probably more likely to happen among the more highly educated and higher earning couples. They're of course more likely to be able to afford for one spouse to either not work at all or to work part-time.
Remarkably, when it comes to divorce, this phenomenon is acknowledged only for the purpose of marginalizing the dad in the child's life. The notion that the primary caregiver should become the primary custodial parent post-divorce is as common as dirt in family courts. The fact that it was Dad's shouldering the lion's share of the earnings load that made it possible for Mom to do the childcare is ignored completely.
Indeed, in a tour de force
of intellectual dishonesty, some have even managed to portray dad's altruism as cold, calculating wrong. Those are the ones who tell us that he "deprived" her of a career and earnings. The truth is that it was her choice. Again, in study after study - of, for example, female law school graduates, female MBA graduates and female graduates of upper-level programs in science, technology, engineering and math - women tend to opt out of paid work in favor of childcare when the first baby comes along. Men overwhelmingly keep working and earning.
But when Mom and Dad divorce, it is only her choice that's honored by the family court. In 84% of cases nationwide, she gets custody and he gets some form of meager visitation which, if she interferes with it, becomes even less.
Of course all that would be fine if the court's decision truly served the "best interests of the child," but it doesn't. Again, study after study shows that the preference of courts for maternal custody correlates not at all with child outcomes. Canadian economist Paul Millar discovered that when he became the first to analyze the raw data over time of custody cases in that country.
Not only that, but what we also know is that, even though Dad works long hours, his kids still love him and identify him as their father and protector. What matters to courts -that he's not their primary caregiver - doesn't matter to them. So when he becomes at best a visitor in their lives post-divorce, his children feel the loss acutely and their emotional/psychological well-being reflects it.
What's needed is not for men to abandon their traditional role of breadwinner, but for courts to abandon their attitude about it. Fathers work hard because they know their families need them to. That allows mothers to do what they tend to want to do - care for children. There's nothing wrong with any of that. Family courts should acknowledge the family dynamic that shows up time and again. They should understand that neither parent is the witless victim of the conniving other. Both make their choices; both are necessary for children's well-being; both should be valued equally in the event of divorce.