Men less satisfied with work-life balance than women

Workplace set-up makes it hard for men to play bigger role in family life

A common assumption in the equality debate is that men lead a relatively charmed existence, and equality is a process of women "catching up". But men die younger, are more likely to be killed in workplace accidents, and this week's Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey shows they're less satisfied with their work-life balance than women.

Some 20 per cent of men rated their work-life balance as poor, compared with 14 per cent of women. Family-friendly policies, such as parental leave, flexi-time and work-share, are largely taken up by women in the Irish economy, and shamefully Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe with no statutory entitlement to paternity leave.

So is it time for some kind of "men's lib"? Niall Hanlon, a lecturer in social science, and author of Masculinities, Care and Equality, is cool on the idea, cautioning against pitting one sex against the other. "Equality for women does not mean a net loss for men."

Are men, though, getting a worse deal in the workplace? "There may be an element of truth to that," but he suggests men themselves are at least partly to blame. "Men are very career-focused and, overall, they are not very focused, or interested, in care.


“In my own research . . . even younger men who were very pro-equality and very involved with the rearing of their children found themselves very competitively engaged in their careers. They were very fearful about being left behind; they wanted to do more education and put themselves forward all the time. They found the idea of stepping out and looking after a child very difficult.”

A report commissioned by the Department of Justice in 2001 showed that up to 20 per cent of eligible employees had taken parental leave, and 84 per cent of these were women.

While there are no more recent figures available, Irish Congress of Trade Unions equality officer David Joyce says "from all you hear, parental leave is [still] taken mainly by women and partly that is to do with the fact that it's unpaid. Given women tend to earn less than men . . . if there is unpaid leave to be taken it will go where there is least financial penalty.

“Gender inequality is bad for men and women,” he adds. “There are a lot of men who would like to play more of a role in family life but the way we have set up our workplaces it’s very difficult for them.” He says he’s not aware of any employer refusing men parental leave but “what you might have is a cultural thing that you would not ask”.

The recession hasn't helped matters. A just-published European Commission report, The Role of Men in Gender Equality, says "recent developments on the labour market (like increasing intensity, flexibility, insecurity, deregulation of work and growing unemployment) have direct negative impacts on the quality of family life [and] active fatherhood . . . These negative effects especially influence specific groups of men, like working class men, young men and men with a migration background."

Role model
The report identifies Iceland as a role model for EU states. Although some benefit payments have been reduced, parents are still entitled to nine months of paid parental leave: three months for fathers, three for mothers and also three months to share. The fact that the fathers' leave is non-transferable has ensured a take-up rate of more than 90 per cent.

“In Ireland, we are so far away from the Icelandic model it’s unbelievable,” Joyce sighs.

Ideals of masculinity
Hanlon believes that, as well as giving men incentives to spend time with their families, policymakers need to go "right back to schooling" and encourage different ideals of

“Men’s lib”, in this view, is not about securing more individual freedom. Rather it’s about men discovering that what they really want to do is care for others.

“The identity and ideology among men in Ireland presumes caring is the women’s responsibility and, at the very best, the man supports the woman in that role . . . I think we need to have a much bigger discussion about caring in Ireland – caring for children, the elderly, people who are disabled. We need to think about who is going to care in the future, and we need to give people more options.”