This week, Citi and LinkedIn published their third Today’s Professional Woman Report, a national survey that asks working women for their perspective on career trajectories, company benefits, and work-life balance. For the first time, they posed their questions to men, too.
When it comes to “having it all,” men want more: 79 percent of male respondents said that “having it all” included being in a “strong, loving marriage,” compared to 66 percent of women. Eighty-six percent of men say the calculus includes children, compared to 73 percent of women. Men are also more likely to describe themselves as “family-oriented” than women are. And the proportion of women who don’t prioritize relationships in their definition of success at all has almost doubled—from 5 percent to 9 percent—since last summer.
The Atlantic Wire’s Zach Schonfeld seems surprised by these findings (which Citi and LinkedIn say are based on a “representative” sample of 1,023 American professionals). He calls the gender discrepancy “staggering,” notes that women are “increasingly defying gender stereotypes by deemphasizing marriage, relationships, and children in their definitions of success,” and asks, “are men more obsessed with ‘having it all’ than women are?”
Men aren’t more “obsessed” with having it all. They don’t have to be. Pursuing a family and a career requires less professional sacrifice for men than it does for women, so it’s easier to claim to prioritize both in their definition of success. Men face fewer barriers to being both “family-oriented” and “ambitious.” They’re rarely even asked how they manage to juggle career with kids, so the question carries less weight—you don’t conceive of a contradiction if you’ve never been asked to choose. The work-life balance conversation is targeted at women not because professional women actually want families more than male workers do, but because demands on women at home haven’t been equitably redistributed as women have flooded the workforce. Many women who highly prioritize family aren’t included in this survey of professionals, because prioritizing a spouse and kids often means not working: In 2009, 26 percent of married mothers with kids under 15 stayed home. And for men, identifying as a “family man” has not traditionally required the actual work of childrearing—getting married and having kids is enough. Maybe it’s not that men actually “want” more, but that they expect more.
Of course, working men do face challenges in balancing their families and careers, even if they’re rarely asked about them. Many struggle to spend more time with their children in a professional landscape that doesn’t accommodate that pursuit. When men take on increased caregiving roles at home, they are penalized at work. That’s why the most complicating finding in the study is this: While 56 percent of women consider a “good maternity leave/paternity leave policy” a key factor in their success, only 36 percent of men say the same. Shifting the work-life balance conversation will require men to translate their “family-oriented” identity into more hours actually spent with family—and for their workplaces (and government policymakers) to stop seeing that choice as inconsistent with their success on the job.