What Millennial Dads Tell Us About the Key to Fulfillment


Most large organizations today were built in an era when "traditional" dads were the norm. About 75% of American families in 1960 had a working dad, and a stay-at-home mom. Grounded in this reality and the structures that have underpinned organizational life since the industrial revolution, organizations established rigid work hours and expectations for their predominantly male employees.

But, as the saying goes, times have changed. Today we know that the majority of women entering the workforce plan to stay for most of their careers and American families with a working father and a stay at-home spouse now make up a small percentage of US households. This means juggling work and family has become the norm for the majority of women and men.

This reality is crystal clear for Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000). According to a recent study by EY, 78% of Millennial men have a working spouse or partner compared with 47% of Baby Boomer fathers.

For the past seven years at the Boston College Center for Work & Family we have been studying the changing realities for today's fathers. We publish reports each Father's Day as part of our series The New Dad. This year, we focused on Millennial fathers, studying "white-collar" fathers who work in one of five major US-based companies.

What did our findings reveal? When comparing Millennial moms and dads, we found their responses to be more similar than expected. When presented a list of reasons for selecting or potentially leaving an employer, women and men prioritized the same five criteria, although the rank order differed. For example, the top criterion for choosing an employer included compensation, career advancement, and job security (yes, Millennials do care about this). The other criteria that scored highly as both a reason for joining and a reason for leaving an employer was work-life balance - Millennials really care about this. Millennials professed high levels of ambition and a willingness to work hard throughout the survey except in response to one statement: I want to advance my career even if it means less time with my family / on my personal life. 64% of fathers and 82% of mothers disagreed or strongly disagreed.

In discussing our fatherhood research, we often refer to today's dads as "caring, committed and conflicted." Why? Because we consistently find a majority of dads who want to advance their careers by taking on greater responsibilities at work. But we find an equal majority (3 out of 4) who say they want to spend more time with their family. And while the majority of fathers say they should divide care giving equally with their spouse, in fact only one-third say they actually do.

So do Millennial dads also experience this gap between aspirations and their actions?

Yes. But this year a member of our research team, Professor Jegoo Lee of Stonehill College, decided to drill down further and look more closely at this issue. What we found was that the Millennial dads could be broken into three groups. The first we called traditional fathers. These men stated that their wives should do more on the care-giving front, and she does. The second group, which we called egalitarian fathers felt that caregiving should be divided 50/50, and felt that it was. And the third group that felt they should be sharing childcare 50/50 but were not (their wives were doing more than they were), we labeled conflicted fathers. Interestingly, each group constituted roughly one-third of our sample.

If we can extrapolate from the results of our study, one third of today's working Millennial fathers believe that their wives should do more care giving and they do. That leaves two-thirds of fathers in the workplace who are trying to achieve a more equitable balance between breadwinning and caregiving. One-third of fathers, the egalitarian dads, said they are achieving this, but the remaining one-third, the conflicted fathers, are not.

By looking at these three groups, it was also possible to see which of these reported the highest levels of career and life satisfaction. The results were clear, and in some cases, surprising. Across the majority of a wide range of questions about their work and home lives, egalitarian fathers reported the highest levels of satisfaction. Even when it came to finding it easy to balance work and family, the egalitarians scores were the most positive in spite of the fact that they were doing the most on the home front. Traditional fathers scored somewhat lower, but the lowest scores were reported by the conflicted dads. Those conflicted dads, who aspired to share care giving equally with their partners, but did not, were the least satisfied with both their work and home life.

The important message for employers is: Stop looking at dads solely as breadwinners and be sure your corporate culture and work-life efforts are gender neutral. Embrace the fact that your efforts at women's advancement will be greatly enhanced by recognizing men's role in the home.

The important message for dads: If you want higher levels of life satisfaction, the first step is to strive for congruence between your espoused values and your actions. And if you are looking for the highest levels of satisfaction at home and at work, an egalitarian partnership seems to yield the best outcome.

Happy Father's Day!