Men and Care: Key Findings and Recommendations from the Better Life Lab

Blog Post
Feb. 11, 2021

The Better Life Lab has released our final set of findings from a national survey and focus groups that center the experiences and attitudes of men and caregiving. The new reports explore how the experience of providing care transforms men, the experiences of Black fathers and caregiving men, and men who are professional caregivers (nurses and early childhood educators). These new publications join three others in our Men and Care series which examined the barriers limiting men’s access to and usage of paid leave, the factors that engage fathers in caregiving, and the bipartisan support for gender-equal care.  

American values around men and caregiving have evolved tremendously in recent decades. Yet, women still spend about twice as much time providing care as men do. Women have put in impossible hours at work and home, told to negotiate better, work harder, and essentially “fix” themselves. Despite decades of women adjusting, the movement for gender equality has stagnated largely because of structurally reinforced cultural expectations that women take primary or sole responsibility for family caregiving.

What needs to change now are the workplace practices, public policies and cultural expectations that continue to uphold the outdated breadwinner-homemaker family model. Together, they reinforce the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that not only relegate women to the role of primary or sole caregiver, but also disincentivize men from taking on care responsibilities. To achieve a gender-equitable future where men are fully integrated into their caregiving roles and the care economy, lawmakers, employers, and individuals will need to step up.

Here are some key findings and recommendations from all six of our reports in the Men and Care series. We encourage you to read, share widely, and reach out to us with any questions or comments.

  • By and large, men say that they should share care-related tasks equally with women, yet their beliefs do not often translate into added responsibilities at home. In Providing Care Changes Men, conversations with caregiving and non-caregiving men demonstrate that the experience of giving care itself is key to changing gendered expectations about care work. To promote gender equity in care, our report recommends that people, especially men, speak up about the importance of care work and against culturally pervasive and gendered stereotypes. Workplaces nationwide must prioritize flexible scheduling and work options to accommodate workers of all genders, especially those with care responsibilities. Finally, lawmakers and businesses must prioritize gender-neutral paid leave policies to ensure men have time to center care in their own lives.
  • In discussing who they are, whom they care for, and how they provide care, A Portrait of Caring Black Men demonstrates that Black men are active contributors to the care economy. Many Black men provide care, yet workplace attitudes and social policies often make it difficult for some to manage work-life responsibilities and take leave from work to care for family. While Black and white fathers surveyed for our report generally faced caregiving barriers, Black men were twice as likely as white counterparts to report using savings initially set aside for health to cover the cost of temporary leaves from work. To help alleviate the compounding impact of the racial wealth gap, as well as racialized labor market segregation, which disproportionately pushes workers of color into lower-paying industries, lawmakers must implement a universal paid leave policy with adequate wage replacements.
  • Society devalues professional caregiving and widely portrays it as “women’s work.” In our report, Professional Caregiving Men find Meaning and Pride in their Work, But Face Stigma, we find that while men in such roles find career fulfillment, they have mixed views on whether society respects them due to their gender. Respect and trust at work depends on a man’s particular profession; men in Early Education, for example, are more likely to face judgement than men in nursing, who often may experience or even find increased respect due to their gender. To change common misperceptions about men in professional caregiving and attract more to the field, our report recommends improving educational and work pathways that create and promote a gender-equal care workforce. To better support men in professional caregiving roles, we also emphasize the need to invest in the care economy – long-term – through the provision of paid family and medical leave, stable schedules that offer flexibility, and thriving wages for professional caregivers.
  • Although people across the U.S. political spectrum support caregivers and want time to care for their families, The Bipartisan Case For Caregiving reports that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of employed caregivers, regardless of political affiliation, reported missing work to provide care, and almost half (43 percent) had to reduce hours at work to handle family responsibilities. To ensure the U.S. care infrastructure reflects the widespread desire and need for family-supportive policies, the report recommends the implementation of a permanent paid family and medical leave policy, a federal paid sick days policy, and long term government investment in the country’s care infrastructure, including the creation of a federal family care program that everyone pays into and everyone can access.
  • Engaged Dads and the Opportunities for and Barriers to Equal Parenting in the United States highlights that fathers want to take on increased caretaking roles and enjoy more quality time with family, but often face difficulties accomplishing their goals. The report finds that for the 31 percent of fathers facing barriers to better parenting, the lack of money, their paid jobs, and a general lack of time were the most-cited issues. While employers and policymakers must prioritize gender-neutral work flexibility and access to paid family and medical leave policies, men also have a role to play. When it comes to dismantling gender inequity in care, the report emphasizes that fathers must indicate their need and support for paid leave policies and flexible, family-friendly schedules in the workplace and in their communities alike.
  • Lifting the Barriers to Paid Family and Medical Leave for Men in the United States finds that nearly half of mothers and fathers did not even take two days off work, paid or unpaid, after the birth or adoption of a child. Of adults who could take leave, about six in ten received at least some pay; while men are more likely than women to have paid leave, they are less likely to take it. The resulting reality is this: when considering whether to provide care, women tend to take time off and men continue to work. Our report found that workplace attitudes and cultures, as well as the costs associated with taking time off from work—paid or unpaid—disincentivize men from taking leave. Employers must foster work environments that actively empower all workers to take leave. On their end, legislators must include adequate compensation in future paid leave policies to ensure all caregivers can take time off whenever needed, without fear of financial ruin.

We launched the Men and Care series in 2019 because we knew that we could not fully achieve gender equity until men were more included in the conversation about caregiving. We found that many men in our study valued care, wanted to actively provide it, and thought gender equity was important. However, we also learned that men’s attitudes and beliefs did not always translate into action or change societal expectations due to a number of existing barriers, some of which we explored in our reports. The good news is, these reports identify workplace practices, family-supportive public policies, and solutions fueled by personal stories that can enable men to become the caregivers they would like to be, and in turn, promote gender equity in and outside the home. 

Related Topics
Redesigning Work Gender Equity Family-Supportive Social Policy