Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 69, No. 2, 2013, pp. 303--321
When Equal Isn’t Really Equal: The Masculine
Dilemma of Seeking Work Flexibility
Joseph A. Vandello,∗Vanessa E. Hettinger, Jennifer K. Bosson,
and Jasmine Siddiqi
University of South Florida
Two studies explored gender-relevant expectations and consequences of seeking
flexible work arrangements. Study 1 examined preferences and expectations of
students nearing the job market. While men and women valued work flexibility and
work–life balance equally, women reported greater intentions to seek flexibility
in their careers. Intentions were predicted by projected perceptions on gender-
relevant traits. In Study 2, participants evaluated hypothetical targets who sought
a flexible work arrangement after the birth of a child. Flexibility seekers were given
lower job evaluations than targets with traditional work arrangements; however,
they were also seen as warmer and more moral. Men may be particularly penalized
at the character level, as flexibility seekers were seen as less masculine and rated
lower on masculine prescriptive traits and higher on feminine prescriptive traits.
Together these studies suggest that while men value work flexibility they may be
reluctant to seek it because of (potentially well-founded) fears of stigmatization.
The last quarter century has brought enormous gender-related changes to the
American workforce. Women have entered the labor force at higher rates than
ever. Today, more women go to college and earn advanced degrees than men
(Freeman, 2005); consequently, women are increasingly becoming the household
breadwinners (a quarter of wives now outearn their husbands; Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2008). In addition, the recent economic recession disproportionately
affects male workers, who account for around three quarters of job loss (Boushey,
2009). These shifting realities have brought with them changes in expectations
where work and family intersect. Though not equal, men’s and women’s contribu-
tions to domestic work (Bianchi, Milkie, Sayer, & Robinson, 2000) and childcare
∗Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Joseph A. Vandello, Depart-
ment of Psychology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL 33620 [e-mail:
2013 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
304 Vandello et al.
(Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2003) have become more balanced. Workers increasingly
desire a balance between work life and home life (Allen, 2008), and evidence
suggests that work–family balance benefits one’s advancement in organizations
(King, Botsford, & Huffman, 2009).
One response to these trends is for organizations to enact policies that al-
low for flexible work arrangements. Indeed, a recent survey finds that more than
two thirds of private American companies offer flexible schedules, approximately
half offer part-time work and job shares, and approximately one third offer com-
pressed work weeks and telecommuting opportunities (Bond, Galinsky, Kim, &
Brownfield, 2005). However, despite research showing the psychological and
organizational benefits of work flexibility programs, these programs are still un-
derutilized, particularly by men (Allen, 2001; Hill, Hawkins, Martinson, & Ferris,
2003; Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2006).
Here, we propose that organizational policy changes allowing greater work
flexibility may be stymied by traditional gendered attitudes about work and fam-
ily that are resistant to change. More specifically, men’s reluctance to seek work
flexibility may stem in part from the perception that doing so will result in signif-
icant penalties. Powerful norms dictating complete devotion to work are deeply
ingrained, and the structure of many organizations is built around the myth of an
ideal worker who can work full-time with no family conflict (Blair-Loy, 2003;
Weber, 1959; Williams, 1999). Because of these beliefs, workers may fear that
seeking flexible arrangements sends a negative message about their commitment
to work. Indeed, these fears may be justified. Cohen and Single (2001) found
that male and female accountants who used flexible work arrangements were
seen as less likely to advance and more likely to leave their jobs. Judiesch and
Lyness (1999) found that male and female managers who took leaves of absence
were promoted less and received fewer raises than those who did not. Rogier and
Padgett (2004) found that people evaluated hypothetical women on flexible work
schedules as having less career dedication and advancement potential than women
on traditional schedules.
Of the studies that have looked at attitudes toward flexible work arrangements
and evaluations of those with flexible arrangements, most have considered the issue
from the perspective of women seeking flexibility. This is perhaps reflective of a
systemic bias in conceptualizing the roles of men and women in the workplace.
Gender theories suggest that both the meaning of work and the importance of
employment to identity differ for men and women. Whereas the caretaker role is
central to feminine identity, the breadwinner or provider role is central to masculine
identity (Gilmore, 1990; Pleck, 1995; Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Th´
Further, unlike womanhood, manhood is viewed as a tenuous state that can be lost,
and must be constantly demonstrated (Bosson & Vandello, 2011; Gilmore, 1990;
Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnaford, & Weaver, 2008). Thus, failing to live up
to masculine prescriptions as family provider may endanger one’s very status as
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 305
a man (Michniewicz, Vandello, & Bosson, 2011). Given the centrality of work
to normative masculinity, one might reasonably assume that the consequences of
seeking work flexibility will be more negative for men than women.
The current research explored how cultural beliefs about manhood and wom-
anhood impact men’s and women’s tendencies to seek flexible work arrangements.
As mentioned above, very little research has focused on men’s expectations re-
garding work flexibility and how seeking work flexibility impacts men. Butler
and Skateboo (2004) found that men, but not women, who were described as
having a work–family conflict (causing them to miss work) received lower over-
all performance ratings and lower reward recommendations (quarterly bonuses)
when compared with men who did not experience this conflict; women’s ratings
were unaffected by a work–family conflict. Similarly, an experiment by Allen
and Russell (1999) found that men who took a 6-month parental leave of absence
were less likely to be recommended for organizational rewards than men who
did not take leave. However, we know of no research that has directly compared
the penalization of men and women who seek flexible work arrangements, and
furthermore, past research has focused mostly on work-related penalties rather
than interpersonal stigma and character judgments (for an exception, see Rudman
& Mescher, 2013).
Evaluations of those seeking flexible work arrangements are likely shaped
both by norms of work devotion and by gender ideologies that place importance
on the provider role for men and the caretaker role for women. Thus we might
expect that men will be reluctant to seek out flexible work arrangements, and
evaluations of people who seek flexible work arrangements will depend on the
target’s gender and the nature of the evaluation.
Our first study explored the career expectations of a sample of college students.
We asked them to rank the importance of work–life balance and work flexibility
relative to a number of other job characteristics. Consistent with past research (e.g.,
Kerpelman & Schvaneveldt, 1999), we expected both men and women to value
work flexibility and work–life balance highly. We also asked participants to predict
whether they would actually prioritize and seek out flexible work arrangements.
Here we expected men to be more reluctant than women to seek such arrangements,
for fear of gender-related penalties. We were further interested in men’s and
women’s projections of how they would be perceived along various dimensions
for taking advantage of flexible work arrangements, and how these projections
were related to their stated intentions to prioritize and seek such arrangements.
We predicted that men’s intentions to seek work flexibility would be predicted by
their projected perceptions on normative masculine (but not normative feminine)
traits. Conversely, women’s intentions to seek work flexibility should be predicted
by their projected perceptions on normative feminine (but not masculine) traits.
Our second study tested whether fears of penalization for seeking work flex-
ibility are justified. Specifically, we measured people’s perceptions of men and
306 Vandello et al.
women who seek one type of flexible work arrangement: reduced work hours after
the birth of a child. We examined two potential sources of negative evaluations. In
addition to examining potential career backlash, we explored interpersonal stigma
associated with seeking work flexibility. It may be, and previous research cer-
tainly suggests, that those seeking reduced work hours are penalized in terms of
job evaluations, but punishment may also take the form of negative or ambivalent
character evaluations (see also Berdahl & Moon, 2013, on masculinity harassment
and mistreatment of caregiving fathers).
The goals of the first study were to explore the extent to which men and
women value and prioritize work flexibility and work–life balance, as well as their
intentions to seek out work flexibility in their own careers. In addition, uniquely we
examined whether people’s expectations of stigmatization (negative impressions)
influenced their stated intentions to seek work flexibility. We predicted that men
would be less interested in taking advantage of flexible work policies to the extent
they expected to be downgraded on valued masculine attributes if they did so.
Participants. One hundred fifty psychology students (81 men and 69
women) completed an online survey in partial fulfillment of course requirements.
On average, the survey took about 16 minutes to complete. We dropped from
analyses twenty-eight participants who completed the survey in less than 5 min-
utes, or whose responses indicated insufficient attention to the survey. Thus, the
final sample comprised 122 students (63 males and 59 females, Mage =20.2;
56% White, 12% African American, 12% Asian, 13% Latino, 3% Arabic/Middle
Eastern, 3% bi-racial, and 3% “other”). 54% of the sample was employed.
Materials. The first section of the survey asked participants to rank or-
der 10 job features “in terms of their personal importance to you in choosing
an employer.” Embedded within items such as “personal autonomy,” “compen-
sation (salary),” and “opportunity for rapid advancement” were the two main
items of interest: “opportunity for flexible work arrangements (e.g., temporary
leave, part-time, flexi-time, flexi-place)” and “work/life balance (e.g., job ac-
commodates/encourages a healthy balance between work life and home life).” An
additional item measured the more specific “family support programs (e.g., on-site
The second section asked five questions about participants’ specific inten-
tions to seek flexible work arrangements (defined as “temporary leave, half-
time, job-share, flexi-time or flexi-place, and other similar programs that seek to
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 307
accommodate work–life balance”) in their own post-graduate careers, using 5-
point scales ranging from 1 (very unlikely)to5(very likely): How likely are you
to intentionally seek out a career in which flexible work arrangements are an
option? How likely are you to prioritize availability of flexible work programs
when deciding among potential employers? How likely are you to mention a de-
sire to utilize a flexible work program when interviewing for a position with a
potential employer? How likely are you to enroll in half-time, job share, or other-
wise reduced work schedule? How likely are you to take advantage of flexi-time
(wherein you determine the days/times that you work, on a schedule that differs
from the organization’s normal work hours) or flexi-place (telecommuting or oth-
erwise working from home) programs? These five items were combined to form
a composite measure of intentions to seek work flexibility (α=.74).
Next, participants were asked to imagine that they had enrolled in a work
flexibility program offered by a hypothetical future employer. They then predicted
how supervisors and coworkers would perceive them: “If I sought a flexible work
arrangement, I believe my supervisors/coworkers would view me as [more/less]
— than if I did not seek such an arrangement.” Participants estimated others’
perceptions of them on 29 traits, using a scale that ranged from 1 (much less so)to
5(much more so). We chose 15 traits a priori that fell broadly along a dimension
of male prescriptions/proscriptions (i.e., traits viewed as desirable/undesirable for
men) and 14 traits that fell along a dimension of female prescriptions/proscriptions
(i.e., traits viewed as desirable/undesirable for women). For the masculine traits,
from Rudman, Moss-Racusin, Phelan, and Nauts (2012), we selected five traits
rated as male prescriptions (has business sense,high self-esteem,career oriented,
has leadership ability,competitive) and five male proscriptions (insecure,gullible,
uncertain,weak,indecisive; all reverse-scored). In addition, reflecting the central-
ity of competence to the male gender role, we added five traits assessing this
dimension (capable,organized,competent,intelligent,skilled; see Cuddy, Fiske,
& Glick, 2004, and Leach, Ellemers, & Barreto, 2005). For the feminine traits,
from Rudman et al. (2012), we selected five female prescriptive traits (humble,
emotional,warm,interested in children,sensitive to others), and five female pro-
scriptive traits (dominating,aggressive,controlling,demanding,intimidating;all
reverse-scored). In addition, reflecting the centrality of warmth/communality to
the female gender role, we added four traits assessing warmth or sociability (good-
natured,sincere,likeable,friendly; note that “warm” is already included among
the female prescriptions; see Cuddy et al., 2004, and Leach et al., 2005). The
masculine and feminine composites both showed excellent reliability (α=.91
and α=.84, respectively). Finally, participants answered several demographic
and employment-related questions.
Procedure. Participants were recruited through an online research partic-
ipant pool system. Upon signing up for the study, participants were directed to an
308 Vandello et al.
Tab le 1 . Male and Female Participants’ Rankings of Various Job Characteristics in Terms of
1. Compensation 1. Compensation
2. Work–life balance 2. Work flex
3. Work flex 3. Work–life balance
4. Benefits 4. Benefits
5. Rapid advancement 5. Rapid advancement
6. Autonomy 6. Autonomy
7. Stimulating tasks 7. Clear organizational structure
8. Clear organizational structure 8. Collaborative environment
9. Collaborative environment 9. Stimulating tasks
10. Family support program 10. Family support program
Note. The above job characteristics were briefly defined for participants.
external website (SurveyGizmo) where they completed the survey at the time and
place of their choosing.
Ranking work flexibility and work–life balance. We first examined how
men and women ranked work flexibility and work–life balance among the list
of job characteristics. Table 1 shows men’s and women’s rankings. Two things
stand out. First, work flexibility and work–life balance are highly valued by both
men and women, with only compensation ranked higher (see also Kerpelman &
Schvaneveldt, 1999). Second, there is a remarkable degree of consensus across
genders: Men and women both ranked work–life balance and work flexibility in
the second and third positions. There were in fact no significant gender differences
in the average rankings of any of the 10 job characteristics (all ps >.15). The
“family support programs” item was ranked as least important by both male
and female participants; this probably reflects the fact that the vast majority of
the sample (96.7%) did not have children, and thus daycare was not a salient
Intentions to seek work flexibility. Despite valuing work flexibility equally,
men and women differed in their anticipation of actually seeking such an arrange-
ment upon entering the workforce, as expected. Using the aggregate work flexibil-
ity intentions measure, men reported significantly lower intentions to seek flexible
work arrangements (M=3.45, SD =0.81) than women did (M=3.73, SD =
0.62, t(120) =2.10, p<.05, d=.39).
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 309
Correlates of intentions to seek work flexibility. To understand why men
report a lower likelihood than women of seeking work flexibility, despite valuing
it equally, we next explored several potential predictors of intentions to seek work
flexibility. We suspected that men’s reluctance to prioritize work flexibility in
their actual future plans stemmed from their perceptions of how others would
view them in terms of normative masculinity. We hypothesized that for men,
intentions to seek work flexibility would be predicted by projected perceptions on
normative masculine traits, but not on normative feminine traits. Conversely, for
women, projected perceptions on normative feminine traits—and not masculine
traits—should predict intentions to seek work flexibility.
We entered the masculine and feminine trait composites into separate regres-
sion analyses predicting men’s and women’s intentions to seek work flexibility.
For men, intentions to seek work flexibility were predicted by how they thought
they would be perceived on masculine (prescriptive, reversed-proscriptive, and
competence) traits, β=.28, t(62) =2.10, p<.05; however, projected perceptions
on feminine traits were not predictive of men’s intentions to seek work flexibility,
β=.07, t(62) =0.53, p=.60. In other words, men who believe they will be per-
ceived as the least normatively masculine for seeking work flexibility are the least
likely to express intentions to do so. The pattern was opposite for women: Intention
to seek work flexibility was (marginally) predicted by how women thought they
would be perceived on feminine (prescriptive, reversed-proscriptive, and warmth)
traits, β=.25, t(58) =1.78, p=.08; however, projected perceptions on masculine
traits were not predictive of women’s intentions to seek work flexibility, β=.14,
t(58) =1.00, p>.30. In other words, women who believe that they will be per-
ceived as more normatively feminine for seeking work flexibility are somewhat
more likely to express intentions to do so.
Women and men were in agreement in their valuing of work flexibility and
work–life balance in their future employment, both of which were ranked higher
than any other job characteristic except financial compensation. Overall, lifestyle
considerations seem to be valued over other job characteristics such as advance-
ment opportunities and autonomy. Of course, the list participants rated was not
exhaustive—there are undoubtedly other valued characteristics of employment
environments (see Konrad, Ritchie, Lieb, & Corrigall, 2000), but the list was at
least extensive and wide-ranging. Despite highly valuing work flexibility in their
anticipated careers, men were significantly less likely than women to report in-
tentions to actually seek out such flexibility, suggesting a clash between men’s
inner values and outward expectations. This may partly be explained by men’s
projections regarding how they will be viewed on traits that are valued and ex-
pected for their gender. Men who believed that others would view them as lacking
310 Vandello et al.
in ideal masculinity were the least likely to report intentions to seek work flex-
ibility. By contrast, women intended to seek work flexibility to the extent they
thought others would perceive them as more feminine. These findings suggest the
gendered connotations of a flexible work schedule, associated with women more
than with men. As a result, men may believe that pursuing work–life balance may
put their gender status at risk, and they may avoid work flexibility as a result.
We next turned to an exploration of whether men’s expectations of being seen as
insufficiently normatively masculine for seeking work flex arrangements are, in
Study 1 suggested that one impediment to men seeking work flexibility is
the perception that they will be stigmatized in terms of their masculinity. In
Study 2, we hypothesized that people would indeed stigmatize a target who sought
a flexible work arrangement more than a target who worked a traditional schedule.
Further, because the norm of work devotion is more strongly tied to the male than
the female gender role (e.g., Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Th´
ebaud, 2010), we
predicted that men would be stigmatized more than women when seeking flexible
work arrangements (in other words, we predicted an interaction of target gender
by work arrangement).
Because past research has found stigmatization for targets seeking work/life
balance using performance evaluations (e.g., Cohen & Single, 2001), we had par-
ticipants evaluate hypothetical targets on job ratings. New to this research, we in-
cluded interpersonal, trait-related dimensions—specifically, competence, warmth,
and morality, which are considered core dimensions of personality and social be-
havior (e.g., Fiske, Cuddy, & Glick, 2007; Leach et al., 2005). For these ratings, we
expected evaluations to be dependent upon the social dimension being evaluated.
If seeking reduced work hours signals that one prioritizes family commitments,
individuals who seek work flexibility may be seen as warmer than those who
opt for traditional (full-time) work arrangements. However, seeking reduced work
hours may call into question one’s competence as well. With respect to morality,
we had no clear predictions. On the one hand, a commitment to family might be
seen as a moral duty; however, if a man is seen as shirking his responsibilities as
breadwinner, he may be seen as less moral.
Using the masculine prescriptions/proscriptions from Study 1, we also ex-
pected that targets (both male and female) who sought work flexibility would be
denigrated specifically on masculine prescriptive traits, but they also would be
rated more highly on male proscriptive traits (see Rudman & Mescher, 2013).
Similarly, we expected that targets who sought work flexibility would be rated
higher on feminine prescriptive and lower on feminine proscriptive traits as well.
Further, we expected that targets seeking work flexibility would be rated as literally
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 311
less masculine and more feminine than those opting for full-time employment. In
short, to the extent that seeking work flexibility is a greater violation of masculine
than feminine norms, we predicted that people would punish those seeking work
flexibility on the traits that are most valued as male prescriptions (masculinity,
status, competence). As noted above, given that employment is more central to
the male than female gender role, we were also interested in discovering whether
the hypothesized effects would be moderated by target gender.
Past research has been somewhat equivocal on how rater sex might influence
judgments of those seeking work/life balance, and thus we made no strong predic-
tions with respect to participant sex. We might suspect that men will penalize male
targets more harshly than women will, to the extent that masculine norms are more
salient to men, but there is little direct evidence for this (but see Weaver, Vandello,
Bosson, & Burnaford, 2010). Conversely, men and women may not differ in their
evaluations of male flexibility-seeking targets, as suggested by past investigations
of atypical men (for a review, Rudman & Phelan, 2008).
Participants read a description of a hypothetical employee who recently had
a child and either sought reduced work hours or declined a reduced work arrange-
ment in favor of a traditional, full-time schedule. Seeking reduced work hours
may be a type of flexible work arrangement that is especially rife with gendered
meaning. For instance, Eagly and Steffen (1986) found that people see part-time
workers (both male and female) as less agentic than full-time workers. However,
lacking information about the reason(s) for part-time employment, people assume
that women work part time because they are more committed to domestic duties,
whereas male part-time workers are assumed to have difficulty finding full-time
work (Eagly & Steffen, 1986). In the current investigation, we examined the
judgments people make of male and female workers who intentionally select a
part-time schedule in order to take care of an infant.
Participants. One hundred fifty-four students (68 men and 86 women)
completed an online survey in partial fulfillment of psychology course require-
ments. We dropped six participants because of missing or incomplete data, leaving
a final sample of 148 students (66 men and 82 women, Mage =22; 57% employed;
63% White, 16% African American, 3% Asian, 12% Latino, 1% Arabic/Middle
Eastern, 1% bi-racial, and 3% “other”). Participants were randomly assigned to
read one of four versions of the survey, crossing two variables: sex of the target
character and whether the target chose a flexible work option or declined a flexible
Materials. The questionnaire first presented participants with a brief de-
scription of a female (Kathy) or male (Alan) employee (modified from similar
312 Vandello et al.
materials by Cuddy et al., 2004). The employee was described as a 32-year-old
associate consultant working for a prestigious Manhattan consulting firm. The job
was well-paid and desirable. After some information about gender-neutral hob-
bies (e.g., running, listening to music), the description noted that the target and
his or her spouse recently had their first baby. Participants then learned that the
consulting firm offered a program that allowed employees the option of working
part-time (20–25 hours per week) to accommodate personal circumstances. Half
of the participants learned that the target decided to enroll in the program and
currently takes afternoons off to help care for the child at home, while half read
that the target decided not to enroll in the program and works in the office 5 days,
40 hours a week. All other details remained the same across conditions.
Trait ratings. Following the description, participants rated the target on
thirty-six traits. In addition to the twenty-nine traits we used in Study 1 compris-
ing dimensions of male prescriptions (α=.81), male proscriptions (α=.88),
female prescriptions (α=.76), female proscriptions (α=.81), competence (α=
.87), and warmth (α=.89), we added five traits measuring morality (see Leach
et al., 2005): honest,good person,moral,corrupt (reverse scored), and selfish
(reverse scored), (α=.86). Finally, we added the traits feminine and mascu-
line to assess global perceptions of masculinity and femininity. All traits were
ratedusinga1(not at all)to7(extremely) response scale. In the analyses in
Study 2, rather than collapsing the above traits dimensions into broad “masculine”
and “feminine” composites, we instead looked at the narrower composites (e.g.,
competence, warmth, morality) because we were interested in more nuanced im-
pressions, and because it was not clear whether the trait dimension of morality was
Job evaluation. Next, participants were asked to imagine themselves as
an executive of the company and to evaluate the target by answering or evaluating
(on scales of 1 =not at all to 5 =extremely) 10 questions and statements:
“How committed is this employee to her(his) job?”; “How dependable is this
employee?”; “How dedicated is this employee?”; “How valuable is this employee
to her(his) company?”; “How comfortable would you be giving Kathy(Alan)
an important assignment?”; “Kathy(Alan) is a team player”; “Kathy(Alan) is
someone I would like to work with”; “Kathy(Alan) is persistent in completing job
tasks”; “Kathy(Alan) is an efficient worker”; and “How likely would you be to
recommend Kathy(Alan) for a promotion?” We combined the items to form an
overall job evaluation index (α=.95). In addition, participants were asked to give
the employee a raise ranging from 0% to 8%. To minimize the possibility that
lower raises would be assigned to flexibility seekers simply because they worked
fewer hours, we specifically phrased the recommendation as an “hourly raise.”
Finally, participants answered several demographic questions.
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 313
Procedure. Participants were recruited through an online research partic-
ipant pool system, and in an Introductory Psychology course. Participants were
directed to a link on the SurveyGizmo website, and completed the survey at a time
and place of their choosing.
Job evaluations. We submitted the 10-item job evaluation index to a 2
(target sex) by 2 (participant sex) by 2 (work arrangement: part-time vs. full-time)
ANOVA, to test the hypothesis that those seeking flexible work arrangements
would face job penalties. We found the expected main effect such that targets
who sought reduced hours were rated more negatively (M=3.77, SD =0.61)
than targets who worked traditional hours (M=4.18, SD =0.68, F(1, 140) =
17.54, p<.001, d=.70). We also found an unexpected main effect for target
sex, such that across levels of work arrangement, Kathy (M=3.92, SD =0.68)
was evaluated more favorably than Alan (M=3.66, SD =0.54, F(1, 140) =
7.72, p<.01, d=.46). Neither the main effect for participant sex nor any of the
interactions were significant. Thus, while all flexibility seekers were penalized
relative to their nonflexibility seeking same-sex counterparts, the degree of this
penalty was no greater for male than for female targets, and no greater for male
than female participants.
We next examined the percentage raise assigned to the target. Flexibility
seekers were given lower raises (4.72%, SD =1.64) than targets who worked
traditional hours (5.69%, SD =1.63, F(1, 138) =13.14, p<.001, d=.63).
Neither the main effect of target sex, participant sex, nor any of the interactions
were significant, Fs<1.
Trait ratings. Looking first at the single item measures of masculine and
feminine, as one might expect, Alan (M=5.43, SD =1.12) was rated as much
more masculine than Kathy (M=2.52, SD =1.44, F(1, 140) =194.54, p<
.001, d=2.26). Importantly, however, targets of either sex who sought work
flexibility were rated as less masculine (M=3.92, SD =1.94) than targets who
worked traditional hours (M=4.51, SD =1.86, F(1, 140) =9.16, p<.01, d=
.51). There was no main effect for participant sex and there were no significant
interactions. Similarly, Kathy (M=5.67, SD =1.10) was rated as much more
feminine than Alan (M=2.12, SD =1.32, F(1, 140) =286.20, p<.001, d=
2.85), and targets who sought flexible work hours were rated as marginally more
feminine (M=3.75, SD =2.22) than targets who worked traditional hours (M=
3.41, SD =2.07, F(1, 140) =3.67, p=.057, d=.16). There was no main effect
for participant sex and there were no significant interactions.
Turning to the composite trait dimensions, we next looked at the composite of
male prescriptive traits. As expected, flexibility seekers were rated lower on male
314 Vandello et al.
prescriptions (M=5.27, SD =0.96) than targets who worked traditional hours
(M=5.89, SD =0.89, F(1, 140) =16.56, p<.001, d=.70). In addition, and un-
expectedly, Kathy (M=5.86, SD =0.95) was rated higher on male prescriptions
than Alan was (M=5.45, SD =0.96, F(1, 140) =8.84, p<.01, d=.51, regardless
of work arrangements. No other effects were significant. For the male proscrip-
tions composite variable, there were no significant main effects or interactions
As expected, flexibility seekers were rated higher on female prescriptions
(M=5.34, SD =0.70) than targets who worked traditional hours (M=4.40,
SD =0.98, F(1, 140) =40.05, p<.001, d=1.06). No other significant ef-
fects emerged. Also as expected, flexibility seekers were rated lower on female
proscriptions (M=2.70, SD =1.02) than targets who worked traditional hours
(M=3.85, SD =1.16, F(1, 140) =37.62, p<.001, d=1.03), and no other effects
Targets who sought work flexibility were seen as warmer (M=5.67, SD =
0.82) than targets who worked traditional hours (M=5.16, SD =0.92, F(1, 140) =
11.95, p<.01, d=.55). Flexibility-seekers were also seen as more moral (M=
6.04, SD =0.87) than targets who worked traditional hours (M=5.42, SD =0.93,
F(1, 140) =14.48, p<.001, d=.63). No other main effects or interactions were
significant for these two composites. For the competence composite variable, the
only significant effect that emerged was an unexpected main effect for target sex,
such that Kathy (M=6.02, SD =0.85) was rated as more competent than Alan
(M=5.67, SD =0.91, F(1, 140) =8.84, p<.01, d=.51).
Participants penalized a target, male or female, who sought reduced hours
after the birth of a child by evaluating him or her more negatively on job charac-
teristics and recommending a smaller raise. Seeking a flexible work arrangement
affected character evaluations as well. Targets who sought work flexibility (re-
gardless of their sex) were seen as warmer and more moral than those who worked
traditional hours, but they were also rated lower on masculine prescriptive traits,
and were seen as less masculine and more feminine than people who worked
traditional hours. Thus, although we did not find that men were penalized more
than women for seeking work flexibility using job ratings, they nevertheless faced
harsher character judgments than women, because targets who sought flexible
work arrangements were derogated specifically on valued masculine prescriptive
traits. Moreover, targets of both genders were rated as less masculine and more
feminine on global ratings when they sought work flexibility, compared with tra-
ditional hours. Therefore, even if a man who seeks a flexible work arrangement is
given the exact same trait attributions as a woman who does so (for example, being
seen as warmer, but having less leadership ability than a full-time worker), the
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 315
man has in effect suffered more by it, because the woman is seen as conforming
to feminine prescriptions whereas a man is seen as a gender deviant.
We also found some unexpected main effects for target gender, such that the
female target was given higher job evaluations and was rated higher on prescriptive
masculine traits than the male target, regardless of work arrangements. This likely
reflects a contrast effect (Biernat, 2005) by which a woman’s performance in
a masculine work domain is regarded as exceptional and especially masculine
because it violates traditional expectations.
One implication of the steady migration of women into the workforce over re-
cent decades is an increasing awareness of the ways in which work and family over-
lap. This is evident in research, which has brought attention to the ways in which
wage gaps (Stanley & Jarrell, 1998), glass ceilings (Daniels, 1998), “mommy
tracks” (Schwartz, 1989) and maternal walls (Biernat, Crosby, & Williams, 2004)
impede women’s advancement. More recently, research has focused on work–
family conflict and integration, but again the bulk of research has examined the
experiences of women. Less attention has been given to the ways in which work
attitudes and policies affect men.
The present research aimed to shed light on the gendered aspects of flexible
work arrangements, and particularly, their implications for men. Past research sug-
gested reluctance among men to utilize flexible work arrangements when offered,
and an ambivalence (among men who have flexible work arrangements and among
their coworkers and supervisors) when taken. Pleck (1993), for instance, found
that when men do take advantage of policies such as flexible hours, they often
do so to accommodate family commitments. However, employers and coworkers
often assume men use flextime out of personal preference rather than for family
reasons, and men are reluctant to advertise family reasons. As a result, as Brescoll,
Glass, and Sedlovskaya (2013) show, managers are most likely to grant flextime
to men who seek flexible arrangements specifically for the purpose of advancing
their careers (as opposed to child caregiving). This not only reflects, but reinforces,
men’s fears of stigmatization.
This ambivalence about work flexibility is reflected in the responses of men in
our first study. Among a group of college students soon to be embarking on careers,
participants ranked as highly important a balance between work and family and
the opportunity for flexible work arrangements. Moreover, men and women did
not differ in the extent to which they valued these qualities. However, when asked
if they intended to seek flexible work arrangements in their own careers, men
expressed less interest than women did. This reluctance is mirrored in data from
organizations showing that men are less likely than women to take advantage of
work flexibility policies. For example, a longitudinal study in the years following
316 Vandello et al.
the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993 (that provides employees 12
weeks of job-protected unpaid leave following a family illness or birth of a child)
found that while the law had some effect on women’s leave-taking, men were no
more likely to take leave following its passage (Han & Waldfogel, 2003).
The results of Study 1 also suggested that men’s reluctance to seek work
flexibility may be driven in part by fears of gender-related stigmatization. Those
men who believed that seeking work flexibility would lead to the most derogation
on masculine prescriptive traits were the least likely to report intentions to seek
work flexibility in their own future careers. Conversely, women who believed that
seeking work flexibility would increase attributions of feminine prescriptive traits
were the most likely to report intentions to seek flexibility in their careers.
Study 2 provided evidence that men’s fears of gender-related stigmatization
may be grounded in reality. Hypothetical targets who sought reduced work hours
after the birth of a child received worse job evaluations and lower hourly raises,
by both men and women, than identical targets who worked traditional hours.
Both male and female flexibility-seeking targets received lower job evaluations,
suggesting that people did not distinguish between men and women in their per-
formance evaluations. However, an examination of the trait evaluations suggests
that men may be penalized more than women. On the one hand, targets who sought
flexible work arrangements were rated as warmer and more moral than targets who
worked traditional hours (and no less competent). On the other hand, flexibility-
seekers (male and female) were seen as less masculine and were rated lower on
precisely those traits that past research (Rudman et al., 2011) has shown are ex-
pected of and valued in men. In contrast, flexibility-seeking targets were rated as
higher on traits expected of and valued in women. Thus, despite male and female
flexibility-seekers receiving similar trait evaluations, men may in fact be derogated
more in terms of character evaluations, as core aspects of their masculinity are
called into question. Given the centrality of employment and the breadwinner role
to men’s self-concept (Gilmore, 1990; Pleck, 1995), and given the tenuous nature
with which manhood is held (Vandello et al., 2008), such character criticisms may
be enough to discourage men from seeking flexible policies that they value and
from which they would benefit. Consistent with this view, men in Study 1 were
less likely to pursue flexible work arrangements to the extent they expected to be
downgraded on ideal masculine attributes.
Although our research was conducted with undergraduate students consider-
ing hypothetical scenarios, the results are consistent with anecdotal evidence in
real work environments about suspicion or hostility toward men who seek flexible
work arrangements. Pleck (1993) argues that despite formal policies for paternal
leave, many organizations have unwritten norms against men taking such leave.
Employers and coworkers have negative attitudes toward paternity leave, view-
ing men who take advantage of such policies as unmasculine. Ultimately, these
attitudes may in fact hinder the career advancement of men who reduce hours or
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 317
interrupt work for family reasons (see Coltrane et al., 2013, on reduced earnings
for fathers who seek reduced work hours). We should note that such hostility
toward paternal leave may be much greater in the United States than in some
European countries, where policies have been in place, and used, for years (Moss
& Deven, 1999).
We recognize that these data may seem discouraging to readers who are seek-
ing solutions. After all, if the norm of work devotion is central to the American
worker, and especially central to male workers, and if seeking flexible arrange-
ments decreases perceptions of masculinity, this would seem to leave men little
recourse. We cannot offer any easy solutions, but can only observe that integrating
flexible work policies (and getting men to take advantage of these policies) will
require changes in societal norms about men, work, and family. As the increase
of women in positions of occupational influence has shown over the past genera-
tion, norms can be changed. We remain hopeful that the association of work with
masculinity will be weakened as women continue to make advancements in the
workplace. Similarly, the increase in family-friendly work policies will elevate
the importance of caretaking and work–life balance as valued aspirations for both
women and men.
Both studies used college student samples with little or no organizational
experience, though it should be noted that slightly more than half of the participants
in both studies were currently employed at least part time. The conclusions drawn
from the present studies would be strengthened with data from employees and
managers with more job experience. The data are consistent, however, with past
research (Cohen & Single, 2001; Judiesch & Lyness, 1999) using real employees,
suggesting real job penalties for those seeking work–life balance and flexible
arrangements. Note also that college student samples are ideal for inquiring about
people’s expectations as they approach career entry, as we did in Study 1.
In addition, the use of hypothetical scenarios in Study 2 is of course an over-
simplification of the complexity and nuance of evaluations of real people in real job
contexts. While we have some confidence that participants’ responses are similar
to how employees would be evaluated in real job contexts, without such data, we
can only speculate (note similar past research using hypothetical scenarios: Cohen
& Single, 2001; Cuddy et al., 2004). While asking undergraduates to provide job
evaluations may be an unfamiliar task for most, the trait evaluations likely mirror
the types of judgments people make on a daily basis.
Another limitation of the second study was our focus on a single type of
work flexibility: reduced work hours after the birth of a child. Rudman and
Mescher (2013) investigated reactions to male targets who requested a family
leave (e.g., to care for a sick child) and found that such men are penalized with
both poor worker ratings and a femininity stigma. Although both negatively pre-
dicted targets’ rewards, only the latter uniquely accounted for their worst outcomes
(e.g., termination recommendations). However, family-related issues may lead to
318 Vandello et al.
different evaluations than nonfamily-related reasons for seeking work flexibility.
For instance, a man seeking a flexible work arrangement to train for a marathon
or to seek training opportunities that will increase productivity may be less stig-
matized to the extent that the justifications are consistent with masculine gender
stereotypes. Future studies would benefit from expanding the range of reasons for
seeking flexibility and the types of flexibility sought (e.g., flex-place vs. flex-time).
With increasing acknowledgment of the overlap between work and family
roles, men and women express both increased job-related stress and a desire for
work flexibility (see Allen, 2008; Kerpelman & Schvaneveldt, 1999). The present
studies suggest the importance of understanding how pressures on employees to
conform to gender roles may hinder organizations from effectively implementing
family-supportive policies that can benefit men, partly by discouraging men from
taking advantage of flexible work policies even when available. As discussed
above, to the extent that norms and expectations about masculinity and work
are deeply entrenched in American culture, the present results might suggest
pessimism about the likelihood of change. While the increase in family-supportive
work policies is something to celebrate, as long as assumptions about men who
are in flexible work arrangements place their masculinity under suspicion, such
policies will likely be underutilized and ineffective. However, there is evidence
that a change in norms is possible: In Europe, parental leave policies are the norm
and paid paternity leave is becoming more popular. Sweden, for instance, has one
of the most progressive paternal leave policies in the world. After it instituted a
policy in 1995 penalizing families’ subsidies if men did not take leave after the
birth of a child, over 80% of men took advantage of the policy (Bennhold, 2010).
The policy shift may have been a catalyst to redefining masculinity. As European
affairs minister Birgitta Ohlsson put it, “Now men can have it all — a successful
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JOSEPH A. VANDELLO (PhD in Psychology from the University of Illinois)
is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida. He has
research interests in gender and manhood, aggression and violence, and cultural
VANESSA E. HETTINGER (JD from Harvard Law School; MA in Psychology
from University of South Florida) is a graduate student in the social psychology
program at the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on attitudes
related to sexual orientation and gender expression.
Masculinity and Work Flexibility 321
JENNIFER K. BOSSON (PhD in Psychology from the University of Texas) is
Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida. Her research
focuses on the self and interpersonal functioning, gender and manhood, and the
effects of stereotypes on their targets.
JASMINE SIDDIQI is an undergraduate psychology major at the University of
South Florida. She is interested in gender issues in the workplace.