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‘Work-Life Balance’ and ‘Having it All’ Are Not Women’s Issues

Making work/life balance a gendered issue is not only unfair, it's statistically wrong.

The results from meta analysis of data from hundreds of studies on the struggles of reconciling work and home life flies in the face of the public perception that women feel that strain more acutely. Not so. The correlation between gender and work/life balance associated stress is within a hair of nil. As it turns out, everyone is struggling.

In order to find out if men or women were more stressed by competing demands on their time, University of Georgia research team looked at 352 different studies linked to the experience of balancing work and home life. The studies captured the responses of some 250,000 people, both men and women, and parents and non-parents. These individuals had been surveyed for studies on subjects ranging from how work intruded into family life or, alternately, how family life intruded into work.

After analyzing the data, researchers found a correlation of 0.017 between work/life struggles and gender. To put that in context, a correlation of 1 would suggest an irrefutable link, while a correlation of 0 would suggest no link at all. A correlation of .017 would suggest a nearly non-existent link.

Which is not to say that there weren’t slight differences. There were. When researchers factored in parenthood for the particular genders, they found that moms experienced slightly more struggle fathers, even when in two-earner households. But they stressed the differences were unremarkable. “Overall, we find more evidence for similarity rather than difference in the degree of WFC (work-family conflict) experienced by men and women,” the researchers wrote.

This is not the first time that research has debunked the notion that expectations and stress are heavily gendered. A 2013 Pew Research Center study on modern parenthood found that reported work life struggles were fairly similar for women and men. Their study found that 56 percent of moms found balancing home and work life difficult, which was just 6 percent more than dads, 50 percent of whom said they struggled too.

But it would seem that Americans are reticent to accept the fact that both men and women, parents or otherwise, struggle with work life balance. A seemingly endless stream of books look to tackle the subject, including the Helen Gurley Brown classic, Having it All, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Katrina Alcorn’s Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink and Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, which deepens an argument first published by The Atlantic called Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, which became the most read article in the magazine’s history in 2012.

If you dig into Google data related to the search interest for the topic of working moms, compared to working dads an even more striking pattern emerges. Searches for “working moms” far outstrips searches for working dads. Clearly, there is more public concern for one than the other.

In the end, making work/life balance an issue of gender is a disservice to both men and women. For women, the stress is only compounded by hearing they both can’t have it all, but need to lean in. As for men, they are left out of the conversation to navigate the stress of work/life balance in the stoic masculine way they’ve always been expected to.

Maybe it’s time to stop.