Alison
By Allison Linn Senior writer
msnbc.com
updated 11/2/2009 1:29:33 PM ET 2009-11-02T18:29:33

Men and women are accepting — and even embracing — the increasing role of women in the workplace, but many are still struggling with the repercussions  on family life.

Those are some of the findings of a nationwide survey released Thursday in conjunction with a major report on the status of women by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.

"The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything" takes an in-depth look at what has happened, and what still needs to happen, now that women make up virtually half the work force, up from about one-third of the work force 40 years ago.

The survey found that around three-quarters of men and women believe that the growing presence of women in the workplace has been very or somewhat positive for American society and the economy.

Both men and women generally said they believe women can be equal partners in work, regardless of family responsibilities. For example, nearly 45 percent of men and 56 percent of women surveyed strongly disagreed with the notion that mothers cannot be as productive at work as people without children.

On a personal level, men and women are dealing with the increase in dual-earning households by negotiating family schedules, duties and responsibilities — in fact, 40 percent of those surveyed said they coordinate such tasks daily.

But such negotiations do not necessarily appear to be breeding acrimony. Both genders overwhelmingly said they do not feel the increase of women in the work force means men have "lost the battle of the sexes."

"It’s not one gender trying to win out over the other," said John Halpin, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank.

The nationwide telephone survey of 3,413 adults, conducted by The Rockefeller Foundation in collaboration with Time magazine and the Center for American Progress, had a margin of error of two percentage points.

Concerns about family life
As more women enter the work force, the survey shows continuing concern for how the trend  is affecting their children and home life. Sixty-five percent of men and women surveyed felt that the decrease in children growing up with a stay-at-home parent has been somewhat or very negative for American society.

“Both men and women are concerned about what’s happening to families when everybody’s at work,” said Heather Boushey, senior economist with the Center for American Progress and a lead researcher on the A Woman’s Nation project.

The survey clearly showed that men and women would like more help with these challenges, particularly when it comes to taking care of children and elderly parents.

Forty-two percent of women, and 36 percent of men, said there had been a time when they wanted to take time off from work to care for a child but were unable to do so.

More than 50 percent of men and women strongly agreed that businesses should be required to pay for family and medical leave, and nearly half strongly agreed that businesses should provide more childcare benefits.

More than half of people surveyed also strongly agreed that businesses that fail to adapt to the needs of modern families risk losing good workers.

Boushey said such findings are evidence that institutions largely have not caught up with the realities faced by many of their workers.

“We live in a world that is designed for one kind of family that no longer really exists,” Boushey said.

The survey also offered strong evidence that some stereotypical concerns about gender divides do not necessarily hold true. Only 10 percent of men surveyed strongly agreed with the statement that men have “lost the battle of the sexes,” while nearly 31 percent strongly disagreed with that statement.

That’s not surprising to Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at State University of New York, Stonybrook, author of the book “Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men” and a contributor to the A Woman’s Nation project.

While discussions of women entering the work force tend to frame it as a conflict between men and women, his research shows that most men don’t think of it that way. Instead the general response of men has been a slow acquiescence to changes brought on by greater women’s equality.

“It’s not like men have embraced it, like, ‘Oh, wow, women’s equality, that is so cool!’” he said. “They’re going, ‘Someone’s got to take care of the kid’ (and) ‘It’s a relief if I get laid off that my wife has a job.’”

Both men and women surveyed also overwhelmingly said they are comfortable with women in the household earning more than men. And more than 70 percent said they did not think that the shift has left men and women confused about how they are supposed to interact.

Divides remain
And yet, gender divides do remain, especially when it comes to household responsibilities. The survey found that about 55 percent of women strongly agreed that, in households where both partners have jobs, women take on more home and family responsibilities. Only 28 percent of men strongly agreed with that conclusion.

Kimmel said women also continue to be much more likely to worry about whether they’re doing enough on the home front as they juggle work and family life.

“Women are comparing themselves to their stay-at-home moms and saying, ‘I’m not good enough,’” Kimmel said. “The men I talk to, none of them worry about whether they’re a good enough dad. In fact, they are are unbelievably self-congratulatory. If they wash one dish, they go, ‘I’m the greatest dad! I should get an award for this.’”

For families to get the kind of accommodating policies the survey showed that they both want, Kimmel thinks men will have to become more vocal about their need to balance work and family life. That means thinking of issues like on-site childcare and flex time not as women’s issues but as family issues that will benefit men as well.

“Women won’t get family-friendly workplace policies unless men support it,” Kimmel said. “In their homes, women have come out as workers, and men have to come out as fathers in their workplaces.”

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