How do men define ‘having it all’?

Matt McClain / FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Matt McClain / FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

For better or worse, the "having it all" debate is one that has long focused on women.

The representative image of work-life balance features a woman in a business suit trying to manage a toddler while tapping away on a laptop. And the lengthy articles about juggling professional lives and family responsibilities are by and large written by female authors. There is no "Lean In" book for men.

Which would lead one to assume women must care about "having it all" more than men do, right?

Wrong. At least that's what a new survey of 1,023 professionals sponsored by LinkedIn and Citi reveals. The survey, released Wednesday, finds that 79 percent of men equate "having it all" with being in a "strong, loving marriage" while just 66 percent of women think the same. Men include children in their definition of success far more than women do, with 86 percent saying it's part of the "having it all" ideal versus just 73 percent of women. And both men and women value work-life balance in fairly equal numbers—with a few more men (50 percent) than women (48 percent) calling it a major concern.

What gives? I don't think I'm going out on a limb to guess that women have learned to adjust their expectations while men mostly haven't had to make the same kind of choices that women have. Whether due to traditional role responsibilities or the lack of support through workplace benefits and child-care resources, women have long confronted more "either/or"s than men typically have. It's easier to believe having children, a strong marriage and a great career represents the successful ideal when society hasn't expected you to make any visible trade-offs.

But of course, many men do give up plenty—whether it be time with their families, a lack of balance between personal and professional lives, or their own career aspirations due to family obligations at home. That's why they too call balancing work and home a "major concern," and in slightly higher numbers. Other studies support this: A 2011 report by the Families and Work Institute, for instance, found that 60 percent of men reported feeling "work-family conflict" in 2008, up from 35 percent 30 years before.

The survey is a reminder that "having it all" means different things to different people, of course, and that the phrase can be meaningless without any context. But it's also a reminder that the debate shouldn't just be about women.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

Why pay equity and work-life balance aren't just women's issues

Single, childless and want work-life balance? How taboo

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