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New Study Finds Millennial Dads Are More Satisfied

Professor Brad Harrington, the Executive Director for Boston College’s Center for Work and Family (BCCWF) recently published the seventh report in a long time research study he has been a part of which looks at the impact of changing family dynamics on fathers. In recent years, many more mothers are working full or part time than a few decades ago, and this changes dynamics both in the workplace and the family.

Professor Harrington explains the in-depth research into fathers began because “the work-family field has been dominated over the past 30 years by discussions about women and especially the impact of working mothers on children. Far less time has been spent exploring the experiences of fathers.”

The most recent report, “The New Dad,” looks at the experiences of millennial fathers at home and in the workplace and has some interesting findings. Young fathers tend to have overall higher life satisfaction than their single and childless counterparts. The report finds that millennial dads can be broken up into three categories: egalitarian fathers, traditional fathers, and conflicted.

Egalitarian fathers are those who divide “caregiving...equally” with the mother, and, according to the report, “have the highest quality of life overall, including for the most part, their lives at work.” Professor Harrington was most surprised by this finding; although egalitarian fathers seem to have the most to balance, they are the happiest.

Traditional fathers have a life satisfaction similar to those characterized as egalitarian. These are fathers who leave a majority of childcare responsibilities to the mother.

Conflicted fathers are those who have the mindset of an egalitarian dad—believing they should split duties equally with the mother—but act more like a traditional father, leaving the mother to do more caregiving.

Another finding showed that fathers feel as much conflict between work and home as mothers do, and that they feel more responsibility to be a good employee and to improve their status in their station in the workplace.

This seventh survey had the same methodology as Professor Harrington’s other research into fathers' new roles. Those who are surveyed for the study are employees of Fortune 500 companies, and “over 3,000 fathers have participated in… [the] research in the last seven years,” says Harrington. In addition to his research, Harrington finds similar traits in young men in his life.

Graham Sterling, a millennial dad, though not an employee of a fortune 500 company, weighed and found some of these findings to be echoed in his own experiences. As a USMC psychologist and father of an 18-month-old, Sterling describes himself as an egalitarian father, but at times does feel conflicted, and says many of his peers are traditional fathers.

Sterling claims that this may  “stem from significant pressure from the USMC to be fully committed to the job” as well as the fact that often “spouses are strongly encouraged to serve as stay-at-home parents.” He also commented that many fathers leave active duty to pursue a more egalitarian role if they are conflicted. Furthermore, childless active duty military personnel seem more satisfied, probably for the same reasons there is a disproportionate number of traditional fathers.

Although he sees an uneven number of traditional fathers, other findings of the study strike a chord in Sterling’s parenting experiences. He feels conflict between his duties at home and at work, as Harrington’s research puts forth, and believes that he and other fathers are “ecstatic to be fathers” and have found “a greater sense of purpose” as a source of happiness.

When writing this report, as well as the six preceding it, Harrington hoped for an audience comprised of employees with or without families, employers, and academia.

Sterling weighed in on the relevancy of the BCCWF and Harrington’s study, saying, “Insight into changing fatherhood dynamics will help shift things in the right direction. Empirical support for egalitarian dads feeling satisfied with life will help other fathers find this approach to parenting a viable alternative to the traditional style."

Professor Harrington went on to say, "Data suggesting fathers are also experiencing pressure to better negotiate work-life stress will trigger a more public dialogue. Greater public dialogue will result in better policies (e.g., lengthier paternal leave) and programs (parenting classes for new fathers) that will help improve the lives of fathers, spouses, and children.”

Whether read by a traditional, conflicted, or egalitarian new father, a new mother, an employer in any field, or even single young adults, the research into changing dynamics certainly has an impact, both helping us understand the tendencies and feelings of millennial dads and the ways we can improve work and family life.

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