Why Do Dads Lie?

This article was originally published by Slate on Thursday, June 17, 2010.

Why do dads lie on surveys about fatherhood? And why their lying is socially significant.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

A new Boston College study makes the modern American dad look positively Swedish in his dedication to his children and his zeal to participate equally in raising them. The yearlong qualitative study of 33 first-time fathers, released yesterday, found that they viewed themselves as sharing family responsibilities 50-50 with their wives and claimed to devote an average of 3.3 hours each workday to child care. The new dads openly gushed about the way parenthood had changed their priorities and career aspirations. "I love being a father so much more than I thought I would," said one study participant about his new baby girl. "The highlight of my day is in the morning when I hear her start to wake up and I can just go in there and pick her up."

Could that be true? Has the American father adapted so quickly to modern feminist demands? The researchers themselves were somewhat suspicious. After all, the most recent large-scale, benchmark studies on time use found that fathers spend significantly less time on child care than mothers. The Families and Work Institute, for instance, puts fathers at three hours and mothers at 3.8 hours with kids under 13, while Census Bureau time-use surveys found that married men spend about 1.2 hours per weekday caring for children under age 6, while married women spend 2.6 hours on the same activity. (For both benchmark surveys, the most recent year available is 2008.)

The answer, it turns out, is that the men in the Boston College study were probably lying about how they spend their time. But that's no reason to be disappointed. The Boston study relied upon in-depth interviews with men after the fact. Time-use studies involve questions about the previous day's behavior. With in-depth interviews, researchers expect subjects to have imperfect recall or exaggerate behaviors they perceive as being socially desirable—weight loss and breastfeeding are classic examples. But the direction in which they lie is socially significant. Thirty years ago, dads claimed to spend less time with their children than they actually did, since child-rearing was considered women's work. Now they are lying in the opposite direction, which suggests that they perceive doing half of the parenting to be a manly affair.

Obama's King of Cool

This article was originally published by the Fiscal Times on Monday, June 14, 2010.

Obama's performance czar, Jeff Zients, seeks to streamline the bureaucracy and make it cool to work for the government.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Just a week after Jeffrey D. Zients assumed his first management job 18 years ago, he slashed the size of his staff from six to two and replaced one of the remaining individuals. The ambitious 25-year-old was on a fast track at a Washington consulting firm, and he knew he needed the right people in place as quickly as possible.

But when he took over as President Obama's first-ever government performance officer a year ago, there was no way Zients could replicate that quick start. That's because it takes on average five months to hire a worker under the convoluted federal hiring process

"I knew there was no way we would be able to meet the president's challenge to make government service cool again and at the same time have such a broken hiring process that, for the most part, did not have senior leaders spending the appropriate amount of time on people," recalled Zients, a trim 43-year-old who is graying around the temples.

What he did next tells a lot about how Zients attacks a problem: He quickly enlisted Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to launch a pilot project at his agency to try to dramatically reduce the time it takes to bring a new worker on board. First, department officials mapped the convoluted hiring process, identified logjams and cut out redundancies, which reduced the number of steps from 40 to only 14. Then, they trained hiring managers on techniques for getting involved much earlier and identifying job candidates with the right skills. Finally, they tracked each step in the process to see how close managers were to hitting the time allotted for each stage.

Six months later, the experiment succeeded in reducing the hiring process from an average of 139 days to a mere 77. When Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry and Zients rolled out hiring reform for the entire government in May, they were able to point to this success as evidence that the changes would work.

"Organizations often spend too much time thinking about and planning and preparing for change management," Zients said during a recent interview with The Fiscal Times, over mugs of hot tea from his wife's native South Africa. "The best way to change is to begin to change, and then to celebrate those early wins. That builds a natural momentum."