Seismic Shifts at Work and Home

Seismic Shifts at Work and Home

Michigan got totally blasted by a slow-coming seismic shift away from low-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs. Now, in the world of families, work and gender, America’s in the midst of a similarly slow seismic shift. Are we ready? Humans aren’t so good at even seeing such slow change-a-comin’. But awareness – which is arguably the most important word in leadership at home and at work – seems to be on the rise.

Last week I presented on a panel at the 2010 Families and Work Conference with Brad Harrington, who’s the Director of the Center for Work and Family at Boston College. We were discussing the shifts in men’s roles. We were considered experts, yet it was the first time either of us – who speak a lot – had addressed this topic. What does that tell you? The gender shifts are massive. The number of women who earn more than their husbands has gone from 1 in 25 (1970) to 1 in 4 (2007). And in the same time, we went from husbands having more degrees than their wives on a 3:2 ratio, to the opposite, 3 wives with more education for every 2 husbands who out-learned their wives.* Of course, educational attainment ties directly to employment status and income, which partly explains why 60% of the job loss in this recession has fallen on men (during one stretch it was 80%). Ouch!

Yeah! for women, who in three generations have blown the doors off to achievement in the economic and political realms. How great for them, their supportive men, economically benefitting families, and especially for society that can now tap 100% of its talent, instead of 50%. But what about men? And what about our children? This week I’ll be at the White House, where the First Parents will be hosting a forum on workplace flexibility. Every workplace should follow their lead and ask how we optimize flexibility. The old model of mom-at-home can be phenomenal for kids, but it’s just not the norm – not any more than men, shoulder-to-shoulder on the assembly line is the way we make cars. In a land of liberty where women want to work, and in a land of economic pressure where families need the income, two-parent and women-dominated families are here to stay.

I believe one of the most vital things we can do is encourage more Man Talk, so we men rise up to our liberation and we meet the huge needs of our kids. We need individual conversations about paternity leave, supporting high-achieving women, and about how to train our boys for a world that demands new levels of communication and collaboration at home as well as at work. Brothers, is this your Budweiser talk with your friends, or the front-seat conversation with your boys? And we need big public conversations about what it now means to be a great man, a gentleman, a strong man. We really need to figure out how our boys are to keep their confidence when these young women are outshining them. It’s astounding but in a generation and a half we have gone from girls being told not to look smarter than the boys, to some boys telling other boys that being an honors student is a girl-thing.

The last thing we need is a gender war. We need strategies to continue to grow great women, redefine great men, and truly figure out how to have our children get our best when it’s hard to figure out who does what any more, and when there’s less time to do it! For a beginning of the discussion men need to have, I invite you to tune in to the podcast of this past week’s radio show on “making work work,” where we explored shifting male roles. The guests were all-stars and the callers fascinating. (By the way college kids and their parents should tune in this week, Saturday 7-9 AM EST, for a show on what to do after college, especially in this tough environment.)

Let’s talk work place flexibility and home life creativity to

Lead with your best self,


* Richard Fry, D’Vera Cohn, “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives,” Pew Research Center, accessed at It’s hard in a newsletter this short to present these educational attainment numbers with total accuracy. So, an explanatory note on the educational attainment comparisons: about half of all spouses have equal educational attainment levels, so the ratios I presented are only for the remaining half who have different levels of educational attainment.

  • I guess I have been way ahead of the curve for years… observation is we as a society talk too much. I have been a stay at home dad for over 20 years. My three children have always seem comfortable with that. My wife has a job that can be hi stress at times and I have supported her and helped her anyway I can. All this came about because of open honest communication with my wife. I guess I fail to comprehend, What is so hard about being a stay-at-home dad!

  • Paul,

    I’m glad you answered the call for “man talk.” And congratulations to you and your wife for communicating in an “open” and “honest” way, as you have made this role reversal (or so I assume) from your parents’ generation.

    It’s wonderful that you have not found it hard. Perhaps that will be the story for men in the coming years – that a combination of necessity, openness, and communication cause a seamless transition.

    I suspect – as you know – that it will take conversation and reflection to do it well. In the commercial world of work, I study and write all the time to get better at my work. Growth comes with awareness and reflection and new experimentation. Seems only natural to me that we would do the same thing about the “work of home.” Indeed there are plenty of magazines (Parent, Working Mother, Redbook, O, even Better Homes & Gardens) that are taylored to women – to their improvement and excellence as spouse, mother, and head of the household economy. Do men want or need any of these, or some new parallels? Do/should men mimic their dads or their moms, when they are full-time child raisers? I’m curious as to which – if either – is YOUR primary model. Where does your growth and enrichment come from, Paul?

    It’s striking that you are the one person to weigh in this morning! Does that paucity of response suggest that you are right, and we talk too much? Or that I am right – that we men need to figure out HOW to begin to talk about this transition? Or some combination of the two?

    Most of all, let me finish by saying that I can’t help but believe that your comfort with your role, and your wife’s and your communicating well about it, are precisely the reason your three kids feel so comfortable as well. Bravo!


    • Dan,

      I have been blessed with the perfect opportunity and circumstances to be a full time stay-at-home dad. I have read my share of parenting magazines: Good Housekeeping, Parents, Home Journal etc..and while they may be tailored to women, I found the advice sound for me in my role as the primary care giver. Do we really need magazines tailored to men? Do we constantly have to sound the male vs female cry?
      I would hope my children would be comfortable in either role and I believe they would. Unfortunately I don’t think they will ever have the opportunity since the one parent home, while the other works, is becoming extinct. The future belongs to the two working parent family and I believe that makes it a more difficult environment for growth.
      My growth, and continued growth, comes from my upbringing and my faith. I came from the traditional ” Leave It to Beaver” upbringing and in that environment I saw the value of both roles in parenting. I say myself as doing either. My wife wanted a career and I had one. While I have missed my career, I would not have changed my decision. This was a once in lifetime opportunity and I am glad I had the courage to be a stay-at-home dad.
      Thank You for your kind words.
      As men and women, we need to work on this together.


  • This is the comment that stood out for me: “It’s astounding but in a generation and a half we have gone from girls being told not to look smarter than the boys, to some boys telling other boys that being an honors student is a girl-thing.”

    That kind of change happens incrementally… I didn’t think about it until you pointed it out.

    BTW, I talk to women who still have it programmed into them not to look smarter than the boys.

  • Here’s a statement from the column that landed in a weird way for me: “Of course, educational attainment ties directly to employment status and income, which partly explains why 60% of the job loss in this recession has fallen on men (during one stretch it was 80%?.”

    Why did it land weird? Because if you look at the statistics, you will see that while women are earning more degrees than men, they are still earning less income than men. So, for women, a college degree does represent more opportunity, but still less income, unfortunately.

  • About 19 years ago, I stayed at home for 18 months with our newborn daughter while my wife continued to work. I loved the experience, and I know that it helped me to have a closer relationship with my daughter. I now work a full-time-plus work week (like most or all of the rest of you) but I think that experience 19 years ago not only continues to make my family life better today, but also to balance my work life.

    And Dan, I hope your weather in D.C. is better than mine in Boston this week. I’m here chaperoning a group of high-school age kids from my church, including my son, and we’ve literally had record rainfalls … so much rain, in fact, that they literally cancelled the Duck rides. Any time that World War II-vintage amphibious vehicles can’t do their thing, it’s time to look around for an old guy building an arc. Voopa-voopa-voopa …

  • Thanks for your insightful observation. It sure matches the conversation around our dinner table.
    I am a career public servant in welfare management, and from what we see every day, the disconnect goes even further. Many people who seek welfare have mental health issues, anger issues, and hopelessness because they are told in so many ways every day that there is no place for them.
    We need to start planning as a society what we are going to do with the growing number of people who do not fit in today’s workforce.
    In the “old days” there was always a place for such a person as a hired man on a farm,
    or the urban equivalent of that. These jobs gave people self-respect and a sense of being needed.
    We have not made a transition to today’s needs, although as we look around our communities, there is certainly work that needs to be done.
    I hope you an others who are in a position to influence long-range planning will start looking at ways to include people with limited tech skills and limited interpersonal skills in our society.

  • Talent comes in all forms. Nothing wrong in playing to strengths in a family no matter how that looks. I am fortunate to have the blessings of making a living in a virtual business from home. That means I work my own schedule whenever and wherever (just about anywhere in the world) I want. Be prepared it DOES take a lot of effort to get there.

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