Are you an “equal parent”?
Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine ran a cover story about the age-old work-family balance called When Mom and Dad Share It All. It very much tracks some of the debates and sentiments from my last post on maternity versus parental leave. The NYT article describes three families and goes into significant depth describing how each manage (or don’t) the gendered dynamics of career and childcare. Behind these featured families are statistics such as women doing 38 hours a week of housework on average and men doing 12 (when only the husband is working). This three-one ratio goes down, but only to a two-one ratio when both parents are working — women doing 28 hours a week of housework and men doing 16.
The child care dynamic is even more drastic (and not counted in the housework statistic):
Where the housework ratio is two to one, the wife-to-husband ratio for child care in the United States is close to five to one. As with housework, that ratio does not change as much as you would expect when you account for who brings home a paycheck. In a family where Mom stays home and Dad goes to work, she spends 15 hours a week caring for children and he spends 2. In families in which both parents are wage earners, Mom’s average drops to 11 and Dad’s goes up to 3. Lest you think this is at least a significant improvement over our parents and grandparents, not so fast. “The most striking part,” Blair says, “is that none of this is all that different, in terms of ratio, from 90 years ago.”
I was saddened to hear that little has changed in almost a century??!! Okay, so perhaps moms have “more flexible jobs” than dads do (for reasons of socialization or something else), and therefore can take care of the children more. To be sure, I thought, as a professor, I have much more flexibility than my husband, which explains why I do more of the child care during the week. But wait… , the article explains:
…the perception of flexibility is itself a matter of perception. In her study, she was struck by how often the wife’s job was seen by both spouses as being more flexible than the husband’s. By way of example she describes two actual couples, one in which he is a college professor and she is a physician and one in which she is a college professor and he is a physician. In either case, Deutsch says “both the husband and wife claimed the man’s job was less flexible.”
Yikes! I started wondering how flexible is my job as compared to my husband’s? Who is making it “more” or “less” flexible? Which policies and preferences are preventing us from equal-parenting in the ways this article describes? And then I wondered whether the professor-fathers out there do as much child care as I do — that is, do they perceive their job to be more flexible than their spouses, as do I? I would guess the trend is that more fathers with flexible schedules (as this article documents) are doing more of the child care, but the trend is sadly slow and (also as this article documents) greatly imbalanced still after so much time.
There is more in this article as well … worth a read.
Especially interesting is the comparison of heterosexual parenting to lesbian parenting when it comes to division of labor (no put intended).
There is one pocket of American parenting in which equality is the norm or, at least, the mutually-agreed-upon goal. Same-sex couples cannot default to gender when deciding who does what at home. How these parents make their decisions, therefore, sheds some light on why married men and women act the way they do. They are the exceptions that both prove and challenge the rules.
“Heterosexual couples can learn from gay couples about sharing housework and child care,” says Esther D. Rothblum, a professor in the women’s studies department of San Diego State University whose comparative study of the relationships of 342 couples — lesbian, gay, heterosexual — was published in the journal Developmental Psychology in January. “They are good role models.”
One standard research questionnaire for looking at the division of household labor has been a survey known as “Who Does What?” created by Philip and Carolyn Cowan, both emeritus professors at U.C. Berkeley. Respondents are asked to rate “How It Is Now” and “How I Would Like It to Be” in dozens of household and child-care tasks. Created with straight couples in mind, it was adapted by Charlotte Patterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, for lesbian parents. The study found little of the inequity that shows up when heterosexuals fill it out. (There has not been the same research attention paid to gay men raising children because only recently have gays begun adopting or hiring surrogates in large enough numbers to support a study.)