Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 7–8, pp 429–442 | Cite as

Looking for a Family Man? Norms for Men Are Toppling in Heterosexual Relationships

  • Loes MeeussenEmail author
  • Colette Van Laar
  • Marijke Verbruggen
Original Article


Gender norms indicate that men should be agentic and work-oriented rather than communal and family-oriented. Yet, this traditional expectation conflicts with findings that communion is highly valued in romantic partners. Moreover, because more women in industrialized countries are pursuing careers, they may increasingly seek family-oriented partners to share the second shift of family tasks. Investigating the attractiveness of communal, family-oriented men, we show that 87 female college students in Belgium evaluate more family-oriented men as generally more attractive (Study 1) and that especially college women in Belgium with high work ambitions seek communion and family orientation in ideal partners (Study 2, n = 224). Lastly, women in 198 Belgian heterosexual dual-earning couples are more satisfied with their lives and experience less work and family conflict the more their partner indicates that he is oriented toward his close family (Study 3). Together, our findings outline the contextualized nature of norms and add to knowledge on norm change, showing how gender equality may be fed through romantic relationships. Moreover, our findings suggest the importance of exploring men’s family orientations in couples therapy, and they call for counselors, as well as policymakers and Human Resources practitioners, to guide men in times of norm change to enable men to be family-oriented and to offer family-friendly work policies.


Gender equality Social norms Psychology of men Marriage and family measures Work-life balance Heterosexual couples 



We thank Ilka Wolter for her contribution to Study 1 and Tess Schooreel for her contribution to Study 3. This research was funded by Research Foundation Flanders Grants G.0630.14 N; G.O.E66.14 N; 12X4718N

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The protocols in Studies 1 and 2 were approved by the University of Leuven Social and Societal Ethics Committee. Study 3 (2013–2014) was carried out before this committee was founded (April 2014) but complies with the guidelines of this later committee, with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards, and with the privacy laws.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_946_MOESM1_ESM.docx (55 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 54 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Social and Cultural Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational SciencesUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Research Foundation–FlandersBrusselsBelgium
  3. 3.Research Centre for Work and Organisation Studies, Faculty of Economics and BusinessUniversity of LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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