Heads Up, New Dads: How Fatherhood Can Hurt Your Career

Father Dylan McDermott at Disneyland with his children
Father Dylan McDermott at Disneyland with his children | Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney via Getty Images

Becoming a father can be one of the most rewarding things a man can do in life. But being a great dad isn’t easy — and though we have generations of insight into how to get the job done properly, it still isn’t an exact science. Add onto this the fact that most men still need to earn a living and provide for their families, and the equation becomes even more difficult to make work. It can be even harder when some psychological changes that fatherhood brings starts impacting other areas of your life, including your career.

Without a doubt, a man changes once he has kids. You see the world in a different way, and your focus shifts from your career or hobbies to making sure you’re there for your family. It can make you a kinder, gentler person. Or, the lack of sleep and heavy expenditures can turn you into a stressed-out mess. Each man will experience these shifts in a different way.

But researchers have found one thing that happens to a huge number of new dads, which bleeds into other areas of life, and possibly has some profound effects: becoming a father tends to make us less aggressive.

Aggression is one of the most primal feelings or instincts we have, though it’s typically associated with violent or bad behavior. When aggression is properly channeled, it can be used to propel us to new heights in both personal and professional endeavors. Just look at some of the world’s most successful people for examples. Bill Gates never would’ve built Microsoft into the juggernaut it is today had he not been willing to channel his inner wolf in the ’80s and ’90s. The same goes for Steve Jobs and Apple, along with countless others.

Taking on an aggressive attitude gets us in shape, leads us to promotions and raises, and ultimately drives us to succeed on our chosen career paths. But again — when you become a dad? Our internal aggression levels start leveling out.

A new study published in the journal Aggressive Behavior says that for both men and women, becoming a parent leads to the internal psychological changes we’ve been discussing; that is, we become less aggressive. To reach that conclusion, researchers took to court records for more than 22,000 people, and analyzed behaviors of parents and non-parents. The results showed that non-parents were more likely to commit violent crimes than those who had children.

“Analysis was carried out using the United States federal sentencing records for 1994–1999 (22,344 individuals). The proportion of theft convictions which were violent (robbery; vs. larceny) was significantly greater for men than women (odds ratio 7.7),” the study says. “As predicted, non-parents were significantly more likely to be violent than parents (odds ratio 1.6). Parenthood had a similar effect on relative rates of violence in men and women, although the baseline was considerably higher for men.”

Of course, we’re looking at crime statistics here, which are in an entirely different sphere from the professional world, typically. But at a very basic level, people who are committing crimes are typically doing it with one goal in mind, which is to improve their standing in the world. That’s the same thing we’re doing at work, and throughout our careers — we’re striving for raises and promotions.

If parenthood has an effect on what crimes people are willing to commit to get ahead, specifically those more violent or aggressive in nature, there’s likely a similar factor at play when trying to improve your standing through more traditional channels.

In terms of your career, how might aggression manifest itself? People might be willing to stay late to get more work done, or take on multiple jobs to earn more money. They might consider starting a side business after work hours. All of these are less likely to happen if you have a family and children at home, which require time and attention. In these cases, those without children may have a leg-up on those that do, as they have more time, energy, and resources to draw from.

That doesn’t mean fathers are completely toothless, however. Many men become fathers and retain shark-like aggression in the workplace. But this study does provide some interesting insight that we may not have considered before. If you plan on having kids, it might be worth it to keep this in mind — and not let your inner-bear go into complete hibernation the second you have an infant at home.

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