Men on the Tenure Track Struggle With Work-Family Balance, Too

January 11, 2012

Balancing family life and work­—a well-documented challenge for women in academe—is also a stressful endeavor for male tenure-track faculty, according to the findings of a new study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. An article on the study also suggests that fathers on the tenure track may not be availing themselves of the full family-support resources available at their institutions.

The article—"Academic Fathers Pursuing Tenure: A Qualitative Study of Work-Family Conflict, Coping Strategies, and Departmental Culture," by Richard J. Reddick, an assistant professor of educational administration, and Aaron B. Rochlen, an associate professor of counseling psychology and counselor education—aims to fill the void of scholarly literature about how male faculty negotiate work-family conflict in the context of their tenure appointments. It was published in the January 2012 issue of Psychology of Men & Masculinity.

The study was based on interviews with 12 male tenure-track faculty members at a large research university. All of the subjects had children under six years old, and most described themselves as progressive, expressing a desire to divide parenting responsibilities equally with their partner.

Mr. Reddick, Mr. Rochlen, and three graduate students—Joseph R. Grasso, Erin D. Reilly, and Daniel D. Spikes—found that the men employed a range of coping mechanisms to deal with the stresses of juggling fatherhood with a tenure appointment.

In response to the competing demands of family life and producing academic work, the men tended to compartmentalize their work and home lives, and improve their time management. They also relied on their spouses to take on more parenting responsibilities, even if that conflicted with their own egalitarian philosophy. The male respondents emphasized that the work-life conflict was more severe for female faculty members because of the perception that they ought to be the primary caregiver.

Part of the stress from work is derived from the nature of the tenure appointment itself, the article said. The job "never says you've done enough," remarked one participant.

Many of the men in the study resorted to overextending themselves in ways that sacrificed their health, as a means of coping with the stress.

Though the study was limited in its scope, it suggests that academic departments may be well advised to evaluate some cultural and policy issues related to the support given to fathers.

"Informing faculty fathers of work modification, or stopping the tenure clock, is only a first step," the article's authors write. "There is a need to demonstrate that these policies are viewed neutrally and will not hurt junior professors at promotion and tenure."