- Isabella Lenarduzzi

Pioneering fathers: Behind every great women is a great man

Faced with the difficulty of juggling two careers in a couple, it has traditionally been the woman who put her professional life on hold to take care of the family. But times are changing…. More and more women want to continue their careers and are appealing to their partners to support them. Some households have even decided to reverse the traditional roles. Fathers are taking up the reins at home enabling their spouses to continue to development their professional lives. 

With the support from the Federal Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities, Joëlle Milquet, JUMP and Bain & Company interviewed more than 239 people  who made this choice. Below are the key conclusions of the study:

Main motivation: to support the career of their partners in the long term

Based on the results of the study, two main reasons seem to motivate this change in roles: supporting the career of their partners and the desire to spend more time with their families.

The study also shows that the majority of households do not consider this family system as a makeshift or quick-fix solution but instead as a sustainable solution for their families. In fact, 85% of the fathers questioned have taken on the responsibility for the family for over a year and nearly 40% have done so for more than five years. At the same time, 58% of them intend to keep doing so for over three years or more including some who said they would do so indefinitely.

This long-term commitment is reflected in the distribution of daily tasks. Around 61% of fathers consider that they are the main person responsible for household tasks. However, financial decisions and those concerning the education of their children are more often shared and discussed within the couple.

What are the consequences of this choice?

Pioneering fathers perceive two main advantages of their choice: the opportunity for a better career for their partner and the happiness of the children. These two elements are fundamental reasons for their choice. The mothers also appreciate these two elements as well as the notion of “rest and less stress in family management.”

On the whole, over half of the fathers questioned are satisfied with their situation. Even if 24% of them sometimes have mixed feelings regarding their choice.

Some barriers still exist

Despite the many advantages for their family life, pioneering fathers encounter certain issues:

  • Financial constraints are a major factor. The household cannot afford as many expenses as it could when their were two full-time salaries providing for their needs. Men can also experience certain issues accepting their financial dependency.
  • Exclusion (partial or total) from active life is another stumbling block for this family model. Fathers refer to their isolation and a slowdown in their social life.
  • Pressure from employers and the consequences of their choice on their careers can also put the breaks on such a decision. This is reflected in the desire of pioneering fathers to have more flexibility at work and greater recognition for the parental role of fathers, in particular when they work part time.
  • The opinions of friends and family also represent an obstacle. The fathers of the families questioned feel they have relatively little support from their families, male friends and work colleagues.

The key obstacles identified by the fathers questioned are directly linked to the reduction in their working hours. We note that 92% of the fathers targeted in the study had previously worked full time. Following their choice to take on more family responsibilities, only 57% continued to work full time while the number of part-time fathers or house husbands had continued to increase significantly.

Demands vis-à-vis society

Those households questioned would like, above all, more flexibility at work, an improvement in childcare services as well as greater recognition and promotion of the parental role of fathers in society and in companies. This is reflected in three ways:

  • Offering more flexible working options, not only to mothers but also to fathers. These programmes are increasingly in demand and – according to a previous study by Bain&Company – when a company does not offer them to its employees, this generates dissatisfaction among its employees.
  • Improving the visibility of the fathers who have opted for greater flexibility whilst remaining in posts of responsibility and retaining possibilities as regards the development of their careers. This would make it possible to help change mentalities and the way in which these programmes are perceived.
  • Improving childcare services and promoting the role of fathers, for example by the government reviewing and revising paternity leave.

Couples who have already reversed the traditional gender roles should be seen as true role models paving the way for greater freedom, not only for women but also for men, to make the choice that suits them without being stigmatised.