Who Values Fatherhood the Most?

Last Updated Oct 18, 2011 6:16 PM EDT

Dads look to be struggling more with work-life balance than they let on, suggests a new study about the importance of fatherhood to men. "There is an image for men that if they're into their career, then they're not into being fathers," says Julia McQuillan, professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of the research. "These results, however, show something quite different."

The study surveyed about 1,000 men across the United States. All of them were either married to a woman or co-habitating with a woman. Unlike other surveys that ask men to rank the importance of different roles against each other, this survey just asked them to rate the relative importance of various parts of their lives. Which men valued fatherhood the most?

  • Those who put a high value on leisure and career. This is a bit counterintuitive, given that becoming a parent gives one a lot less time for leisure and surely makes it harder to maintain a high-intensity career
  • Those who embrace what the study calls "non-egalitarian gender roles." The cynic in me says this makes sense-if you think mom's going to do all the diaper changing, than fatherhood looks pretty good! But a more realistic guess is that these men simply place a higher value on the family as the basic unit of society than others might.
  • Those who are already dads.
  • Those who are more religious.
Overall, men said that fatherhood was more important than their career. Some 75% of the men surveyed said being a good father was very important, compared to just 48% who said having a successful career was important.

This seems to suggest that men, not just women, should be able to benefit from flexible work arrangements or other changes in scheduling meant to help employees achieve better work/life balance. Yet at many companies, these options, when available, are used almost exclusively by women--and more specifically, by mothers.

Most of the men either agreed or strongly agreed with statements such as

  • "Having children is important to my feeling complete as a man."
  • "I always thought I would be a parent."
  • "I think my life will be or is more fulfilling with children."
  • "It is important for me to have children." More than 75% of the men agreed with this statement.
If these statements sound familiar, it's because questions such as these are often used when asking women about the importance of motherhood in their lives. But oddly, these same questions are not widely used to assess the importance of fatherhood to men.

The study, by Veronica Tichenor of the State University of New York-Institute of Technology, McQuillan, Arthur Griel of Alfred University, Raleigh Contreras of Univeristy of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Karina Shreffler of Oklahoma State University, will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Fathering.

Do you think men and women place different values on parenting? Or do we just not tend to ask men about it as much?


Really lovely image courtesy flickr user Sukanto Debnath
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.