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Too much for a guy

When the work-home juggling act gets too intense, more men are choosing to drop the job.

May 08, 2003|Benedict Carey | Times Staff Writer

PRIDE, spite, ego, more time to play golf: These are traditional male reasons for walking out on a job, and anyone "taking more time for the family" was widely presumed to have been canned. Well, times do change. And now psychologists who study behavior in the workplace say that, more than ever, at-home responsibilities figure prominently in men's perceptions of their workload and their willingness to quit a job.

The time-honored solutions to unreasonable work demands -- do the hours, skip the family time, pour a double scotch -- no longer hold for the growing number of men who either want to or have to help run the household because their wives work too, sociologists say.

The latest signs of the trend come from psychologists at Texas A&M University in College Station and the Walter Reed Army Research Institute, who asked a group of 280 military men and women several times during the course of a year about stress levels at work and home. Married men who felt overloaded at work also reported problems at home, a conflict between work and family that is known to prompt thoughts of quitting a job. The same was not true of women; higher workloads did not lead to more complaints about family life.

The reason women take the demands in stride: They're used to it, the researchers argue. As sociologists have documented, women began adding career stress to the demands of running a household a generation ago, whereas men have only recently begun to heap household chores on top of their work demands.

"Men are expected to contribute so much more at home than they have in past, and they're apparently feeling the pressures of that 'Honey-do list," said Texas A&M psychologist Stephanie Payne, who conducted the soldier study with Ann Huffman, a graduate student, and Carl Castro, of Walter Reed.

Shifting gender roles notwithstanding, men in two-career families still have more leeway to collapse on the couch after work while the Ms. jumps into gear on kids' homework or dinner, family studies show.

But once dad decides he's going to be a primary or equal caregiver, those extra hours at work become a sore point, said Robert Frank, 47, a psychologist at Oakton Community College near Chicago who has written widely on shared parenting.

"I'm a perfect example of that," said Frank, who stayed at home with his two kids, now teenagers, for 12 years. "I feel exactly the same pressure to perform in a full-time job, plus I still drop off the kids, pick them up, do laundry and so on."

Hogan Hilling, 48, a father of three who runs a parenting Web site (at www.prouddads.com) and counseling groups for men struggling with child responsibilities, said work hours are "a huge issue with these men. They're all trying to figure out how to play provider and help out at home, and they're beginning to speak up about the cost of staying extra hours." Many have also quit or changed jobs.

The cost is often high: Trimming back work hours almost always means less pay, less visibility, less opportunity for advancement -- all of which sting, when you're supposed to be the alpha provider.

But working crazy hours when you have kids at home is itself crazy, said Randy Salerno, 40, a father of four in Irvine who changed jobs several years ago to buy himself more time at home.

"You get home dead-tired and kids want attention," he said. He's now working in law enforcement, four days a week.

"The money is a little tighter," he said, "but I feel lucky to have this kind of job."

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