(mensrights) The Labour Of Love That Makes Divorce Harder Work For Fathers

Submitted by Editor on Fri, 30/07/2004 - 20:35

By Bettina Arndt
Sydney Morning Herald

Long hours at the coalface can prove a double-edged sword for men if their marriages fail, writes Bettina Arndt.


Thursday, July 29, 2004

Unlike many of her predecessors, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, has resisted the temptation to use her position to beat up on men. But recently there are signs the anti-male culture at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission might have got to her.

In the past few weeks, Goward has been weighing into the debate on joint custody with remarks uncharacteristically hostile to men.

At a speech last week to a women's employment conference, she laid into the "unattractive face" of the men's movement, complaining of men working very long hours "apparently by choice".

She recommended the parliamentary inquiry into joint custody should explore the question of whether "men should have to put in equal parenting time while the marriage is intact" if they want to be more involved after separation. There might be fewer divorces if married men spent more time with children, she suggested.

There you are, guys. It's all your fault for neglecting your family by choosing to work those long hours. That's why you deserve to be punished when your marriage falls apart by having only minimal contact with your children.

Yet it simply doesn't make sense to blame men for the working arrangements in most Australian families. The decision that they should take the long shift is usually made by the couple to enable mothers to work shorter hours to care for children.

There's clear evidence that this is a decision most wives see in their own interests. Many men would prefer to work shorter hours and spend more time with their families but believe they are doing the right thing in remaining the major breadwinner.

Look at recent results emerging from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey. Analysis of HILDA data by Yi-Ping Tseng, of the Melbourne Institute, shows wives with the highest life satisfaction in Australia are in families where either the man is the sole earner or working significantly longer hours than the woman.

Most families fit one of these patterns, with a third (31 per cent) in sole-earner families and almost half (45 per cent) with full-timer husbands and part-timer wives (in these families the men average 48 hours per week paid work, compared with 25 hours for the wives). In the remaining one-fifth of families where both work full-time, wives show less life satisfaction.

Tseng found wives in male breadwinner families also report more satisfaction with their partners and are most likely to see their partners as doing a good job as fathers - more so than the two-full-timer families.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies recently used this HILDA data to look at men working very long hours (60-plus) and found that when men were happy working these hours, their partners seemed particularly content with their relationships.

Fifty-seven per cent of these men would prefer shorter hours with a commensurate salary drop, yet almost a quarter were not happy with their workload but didn't want a change in hours - a finding the researchers suggest may reflect the need to preserve a salary level while resenting time away from their families.

Dr Michael Bittman, of the University of NSW, has found that fathers see their commitment to paid work as the major barrier to being effective parents, with 68 per cent of fathers unhappy about not spending enough time with children.

So women are hardly marching in the streets demanding their husbands work shorter hours. Hell, no. It's clear that most wives feel it is in their family's interest to keep their husband's nose to the grindstone, even if it means he misses out on time with children.

And men are also accepting of this arrangement - until their marriages fall apart. For it is then the crunch comes and breadwinning dads lose out badly.

That's the irony. The married men who once were rated most highly by their wives - as partners and as fathers - then have their willingness to support their families count against them.

When it comes to a battle over custody, men who worked those long hours are least likely to be allowed shared care and usually end up as visiting fathers with fortnightly contact.

In fact, the divorced father wanting to see more of his children may be required by the Family Court to keep working those long hours to maintain his ex-family in the manner to which they are accustomed - a particularly cruel twist.

Suggesting married men drop back to part-time work to spend more time with children might set them up for post-divorce custody settlements but it isn't going to pay the mortgage or allow mothers time to be with their families.

It will be a sad thing for our society if this debate convinces men that breadwinning is a mug's game and they should look out for number one - just in case.

Your hosts Reg and Sue Price would like to hear your news and views on the topics:

Email: support@mensrights.com.au
Mail: P.O. Box 28; Waterford
Queensland 4133
Fax: (07) 3200 8769
Tel: (07) 3805 5611



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