Cornell University

March 18 2013

The Parent Trap

Guilt entangling both working dads and moms, Livingston says

Assistant Professor Beth Livingston wasn't surprised when the Pew Research Center reported Thursday that men are spending more time with family than before and women are spending more hours at work.

Since the 1960s, American men and women have become more similar, according to "Modern Parenthood: Converging Roles for Moms and Dads."

"The Pew survey touches on a trend that has been long in the making. Over recent decades, men have increased their share of household labor and child care, and expectations for co-parenting have risen," she said.

"Along with these shared familial responsibilities, however, comes that inevitable emotion with which working mothers have long been acquainted – guilt," Livingston said.

In research papers published in 2008, Livingston and co-author Timothy Judge, a Notre Dame University professor, found that certain men were feeling guilty just as often as women about competing work and family demands.

Also, they found, the gender role traditionalism espoused by individuals affected how they experience conflict between their roles.

For instance, Livingston said, men with more traditional views toward women and work tended to feel more guilty in response to family responsibilities interfering with their work roles.

Egalitarian men and women were more susceptible to guilt from the inability to spend time on their family because of work responsibilities, according to the Livingston-Judge research.

"Though working women might scoff at these findings -- rightfully noting that they have been feeling guilty for decades -- the fact that men are reporting these reactions more often and more strongly suggests a shifting gender norm in American society," Livingston said.

Additional research she conducted with Judge "found that individuals' attitudes were actually changing as people aged, such that men and women were espousing more and more liberal attitudes toward gender as the years went on."

"This increased egalitarianism is linked to a narrower gender wage gap and may also be linked to a more equitable division of household labor and parenting tasks," Livingston said.

"As more of the Millennial generation becomes parents, we will likely see an increased proliferation of egalitarian views toward gender and parenting."

"Indeed, anecdotally, I see my own undergraduate students -- men and women -- being more likely to desire balance between their work and family lives, and equal division of household responsibilities."