Here's how working fathers have it better

When it comes it reaping the benefits of flexible work hours, new dads may benefit in ways that new moms don't.

A new study found that when men ask to work from home in order to care for a child, they're pretty much viewed as superheroes. But when women make the same requests, they don't get treated with the same respect. In many cases, in fact, those women are not considered very likable.

The study set out to analyze the responses men and women get from their employers when they ask for flexible hours. Researcher Christin Munsch, an assistant professor of sociology at Furman University, is expected to present her findings on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

For the research, Munsch asked more than 600 people to read a transcript of a conversation between an employee and a human resources representative. The employee was a man in some transcripts and a woman in others. Sometimes, the worker asked to come in early and leave early three days a week. In other cases, the request was to work from home for two days a week.

When a man asked to work from home to care for children, you could almost hear the collective "Awww!" coming from survey respondents. About 70 percent said they would approve the request. And a quarter of the people found the man extremely likable. Only 2.7 percent said the man was not committed to the job.

But a woman asking to work from home to care for children didn't find nearly the same level of sympathy. Only about 57 percent of survey respondents said they would approve her request. And they expressed a very negative opinion of her, too, with only 3 percent describing her as extremely likable. Around 15 percent said the woman was not committed to her job.

For all the progress women have made in the workplace, those cultural perceptions still exist about who should bring home the bacon and who should tend to the children, Munsch said. "Today, we think of women's responsibilities as including paid labor and domestic obligations, but we still regard breadwinning as men's primary responsibility and we feel grateful if men contribute in the realm of childcare or to other household tasks," Muncsch said in a statement about the research.

This could give men yet another advantage at the office. If couples are trying to equally split the responsibilities of raising children, it seems that men could see more benefit in terms of perception and goodwill at the office.

"In this situation, a move towards gender equality at home would perpetuate gender inequality in the workplace," Munsch said.

The study reflects yet one more cultural hurdle for women at the office. Women are still paid less than men for doing equal work. And decades of surveys have shown that most people would prefer to work for male bosses than female.

Munsch's study did have one bright side for working mothers. She found that when men and women request flexible work hours, the ones who say they need to care for a child were viewed more favorably, and their requests are more often granted. When people say they want to work from home for reasons not related to children -- such as reducing a commute or training for an endurance event -- their requests are more likely to be dismissed.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.