White Collar Machismo
Harvard Business Review looked at factors the stalling progress of women in the workplace. One of the factors that keeps women from getting promoted into top jobs is that they work fewer hours than men:
The head of HR at another large organization asked, when I described the hours problem, “What do you mean, how can we get women to work more hours?”
We can’t get mothers to work more hours. We’ve tried, and failed, for forty years. Mothers won’t bite for a simple reason: if they work 55 hours a week, they will leave home at, say, 8:30 and return at 8:30 every day of the workweek, assuming an average commute time. Most moms have this one little hang-up: they want to see their children awake. Increasingly, many fathers do, too.
This was certainly an issue in the Himmelreich-Truman household. Clancy was tired and burned out at her previous job long before Lain came along. However, it was only once Lain came along that it became non-negotiable. Any lingering chance that she might have stayed with her job disappeared at that point.
I don’t doubt that fathers are affected to some degree, though it isn’t and is unlikely to ever be the same. If I were to be the working spouse, and I were to miss out on seeing my baby for days at a time like Clancy did, I would feel bad about it. Selfishly, I’d feel bad at lost opportunities to play with the baby. But I’d be able to console myself that by working the extra hours, and making the extra money, I was being “a good father.” At least by one common metric. That metric doesn’t really exist for women. Being “a good mother” more inflexibly requires that you spend signficant amounts of time with the baby. Should men be held to that standard, as well?
Work devotion marries moral purity with elite status. Way back when I was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, I used to call it the cult of busy smartness. How do the elite signal to each other how important they are? “I am slammed” is a socially acceptable way of saying “I am important.” Fifty years ago, Americans signaled class by displaying their leisure: think banker’s hours (9 to 3). Today, the elite — journalist Chrystia Freeland calls them “the working rich” — display their extreme schedules.
Not only is work devotion a “class act” — a way of enacting class status — it’s also a certain way of being a “real” man. Working long hours is seen as a “heroic activity,” noted Cynthia Fuchs Epstein and her co-authors in their 1999 study of lawyers. Marianne Cooper’s study of engineers in Silicon Valley closely observes how working long hours turns pencil pushing or computer keyboarding into a manly test of physical endurance. “There’s a kind of machismo culture that you don’t sleep,” one father told her. “Successful enactment of this masculinity,” Cooper concludes, “involves displaying one’s exhaustion, physically and verbally, in order to convey the depth of one’s commitment, stamina, and virility.”
As long as this is the case, it’s going to be hard to make too much progress on the gender gap. When interviewing for a job, interviewers might look at my wife and think “This is a person that is not going to be willing to put in the hours that a man is.” Which is unfair to many women, but completely accurate with my wife and with more women than men. A case where the aggregates and generalities do hold, even while often wrong in the specific cases.
I have been reading Jonathan Last’s What To Expect When No One’s Expecting, which is about the fertility decline among educateds and others in the United States and the world. Among the themes that Last keeps referring to are the costs of raising children. While cultural pressure on parents (fathers and mothers) to work less might be social advantageous, it would in fact mean applying yet another financial penalty to parenthood. It would be more gender-egalitarian, but could simply shift the assumptions about who would and would not work to another axis. Or perhaps, given that parents have a greater commitment to securing consistent income, and perhaps a more general bias on the part of employers in favor of parents, it would all wash out.
Here is an interesting tidbit from No One’s Expecting:
Overall, American fathers have become more involved in raising their children. So much so that, as economist Bryan Caplan jokes, they could almost pass for ’60s-era mothers. But what’s really astounding is what mothers have done. By 2000, more than 60 percent of married mothers work outside the home. In doing so, they increased their number of paid hours per week from 6.0 in 1965 to 23.8. Yet even as they moved out of the house to pursue careers, they also increased the amount of time they spent with their children, cranking it up to a bracing 12.6 hours per week. […]
If you want to be really blown away by mothers, consider this: A working mom today spends almost as much time with her kids as a stay-at-home mom did in prelapsarian 1965. And if we were to construct a new statistic, something like “parental hours per week per child” it would really go off the charts. Because of the big drop fertility, parents are spending more time looking after fewer children.
Last explains that the numbers sound low because they take into account time spent with babies, which is significant, and also time spent with older kids, which is a much lower amount. The combination of these statistics represents a number that isn’t as high as we might think. It could well be that, just as the number is deceptively low, the increase is deceptively high. For instance, it could well be that the increases come in large part from more guided activity in the later years. So it’s not that parents are more busy than ever at any given point in parenthood, but merely that they keep themselves consistently busier in the later years of their offspring’s childhood.
Even so, I would content that this is significant. Kids don’t usually come all at once, and so a lot more time with kids in later years means combined with a little more time for kids in earlier years does add significantly to the workload. Workload that is, largely, self-imposed by all parties. So while we are talking about work-life balance – historically more of a women’s issue, though according to the above increasingly a men’s one – we are talking about child-rearing taking on new dimensions of work. The end result of less work for fathers could simply be increasing pressure to spend time with the kids. Leaving us all more exhausted than ever.
I have never been what you would call a career-ambitious man. There is a reason that I have taken on the stay-at-home duties, other than the obvious economic incentives that apply to our case. But before we had children, and before my career tumbled after our last move to a place where IT jobs were virtually non-existent, I did work long hours. Sometimes, really long hours. I average 55 hours a week in 2003, just out of college. Which may not sound impressive, except that it wasn’t constant. A good portion the year I would work 40 hours a week. You do the math. And why did I do this? Because that is what I am supposed to do. As a person living in a capitalist economy. But more than that, as a man. The notion of leaving work was a matter of self-perception. Being the guy who leaves things undone, or being the guy who burns the midnight oil.
Whether this is good or bad is a matter of perspective. It certainly has value to the economy as a whole. It was also made possible by the fact that I was childless, putting myself at a distinct advantage compared to those who have responsibilities at home. That includes men, though in the same way that my self-image is tied to my willingness to work a seventy-hour week, a woman’s self-image is more often involved in things that would prevent working the same seventy. An attitude that arguably goes beyond parenthood, as images of womanhood are also more likely to include caregiving for parents and relatives. And, for that matter, the husband.
None of this is to say that women are less engaged with their jobs than men. They at least consider themselves to be more invested in their jobs than men consider themselves to be. It may well be that, like most of all relationships, their relationship with their jobs involves clearer boundaries. Whereas our relationships with our employers takes on a different dimension. A touchstone of our relationship with capitalism. And, living in such a society, our relationship with ourselves.