Friday, March 15, 2013

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

In the US belongs more often to the daddy than in the past.  That's the main take from a new Pew Research study on parenting opinions, or at least the optimistic take from it.  The roles of parents are becoming more similar, compared to the olden times:

Balancing Work and Family
The Pew Research survey finds that about half (53%) of all working parents with children under age 18 say it is difficult for them to balance the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of their family. There is no significant gap in attitudes between mothers and fathers: 56% of mothers and 50% of fathers say juggling work and family life is difficult for them.
Feeling rushed is also a part of everyday life for today’s mothers and fathers. Among those with children under age 18, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers say they always feel rushed. 
With so many demands on their time, many parents wonder whether they are spending the right amount of time with their children. Overall, 33% of parents with children under age 18 say they are not spending enough time with their children. Fathers are much more likely than mothers to feel this way. Some 46% of fathers say they are not spending enough time with their children, compared with 23% of mothers. Analysis of time use data shows that fathers devote significantly less time than mothers to child care (an average of seven hours per week for fathers, compared with 14 hours per week for mothers). Among mothers, 68% say they spend the right amount of time with their children. Only half of fathers say the same. Relatively few mothers (8%) or fathers (3%) say they spend too much time with their children. 
Mothers, Fathers and Time Use 
A lot has changed for women and men in the 50 years since Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique.” Women have made major strides in education and employment, and the American workplace has been transformed. But with these changes have come the added pressures of balancing work and family life, for mothers and fathers alike. Trends in time use going back to 1965 clearly show how the increased participation of women in the workforce has affected the amount of time mothers devote to paid work. In 2011, mothers spent, on average, 21 hours per week on paid work, up from eight hours in 1965. Over the same period, the total amount of time mothers spend in non-paid work has gone down somewhat. 
For their part, fathers now spend more time engaged in housework and child care than they did half a century ago. And the amount of time they devote to paid work has decreased slightly over that period. Fathers have by no means caught up to mothers in terms of time spent caring for children and doing household chores, but there has been some gender convergence in the way they divide their time between work and home.
Roughly 60% of two-parent households with children under age 18 have two working parents. In those households, on average, fathers spend more time than mothers in paid work, while mothers spend more time on child care and household chores. However, when their paid work is combined with the work they do at home, fathers and mothers are carrying an almost equal workload.

What still remains unchanged is interesting, too.  Consider the public opinion question (asked of all respondents, whether they were parents with children under eighteen at home or not) about the ideal amount of work for mothers and fathers who have children (not sure of the age of those children, by the way):  Is it best for mothers to work in the labor force full-time, part-time or stay at home?  And then (kudos for Pew to ask about this) the same question about fathers.

The answers, about mothers and work:

Survey respondents were also asked what the ideal situation is for mothers and fathers with young children. Among all adults, only 12% say it’s best for mothers of young children to work full time. A 47% plurality say working part time is the ideal situation for mothers of young children, and one-third say it’s best if these mothers not work at all outside the home.

The answers, about fathers and work:
The public has much different views about what is best for fathers of young children. Fully seven-in-ten adults say the ideal situation for men with young children is to work full time. One-in-five endorse part-time work for fathers of young children, and only 4% say the ideal situation for these dads would be not to work at all.
Fathers themselves are bigger proponents than mothers of full-time work for parents with young children. Among fathers with children under age 18, 17% say the ideal situation for mothers of young children is to work full time. Only 7% of mothers agree with this. When it comes to what’s ideal for fathers, there is somewhat more agreement: 75% of fathers say the ideal situation for fathers of young children is to work full time; 66% of mothers agree.
The latter answer, about what is ideal for fathers,  has not changed much over the decades, whereas the former, what is ideal for mothers,  has.  In other words,  expectations about the gendered division of labor have changed when it comes to mothers but have not changed when it comes to fathers.  That creates some very obvious problems.

There are differences in the answers from demographic groups in this study:

Views on What’s Best for Children Differ by Race, Age 
Among all adults, blacks (31%) are much more likely than whites (13%) to say that the ideal situation for young children is to have a mother who works full time. Only one-in-four blacks say it’s best for young children if their mother does not work at all outside the home; this compares with 36% of whites. The gap on this issue between black men and white men is particularly large. While 40% of white men say the ideal situation for a young child is to have a mother who stays home, only 21% of black men agree. The views of Hispanics are similar to those of whites. 
There is also an age gap in views about what’s best for children. Adults under age 50 are more likely than those ages 50 and older to say having a working mother is the best thing for a young child. Some 18% of those under age 50 say having a mother who works full time is the ideal situation for a young child, and an additional 47% say having a mother who works part time is ideal. 
By contrast, among those ages 50 and older, only 13% say having a full-time working mother is ideal for children, and 37% say having a mother who works part time would be best. Fully 40% of those ages 50 and older say the ideal situation for a young child is to have a mother who doesn’t work at all outside the home. Only 28% of adults under age 50 agree. The age differences are more pronounced among men than among women.
Note that those differences are about a slightly different question than what might be best for the fathers and mothers.  It's about what might be best for the children, and on that the general public holds the views shown in the following graph when it comes to mothers:

The research report mentions in several places that the percentage of both the general public and parents which supports the single breadwinner models has declined from 2007 or from 2009.  That is probably a consequence of the recession which has demonstrated the dangers of that pattern when economic times are bad.

The wider connections this research report suggests are fairly obvious.  As long as the ideal division of labor is seen in terms like these we are going to struggle with having women in the kinds of decision-making roles which require having a history of many years of full-time work.  We are also going to struggle with the attempt to see childcare as a general problem for parents rather than as a problem women have in trying to balance family and work.

Still, I'm optimistic about the direction of the changes and also about the fact that the fathers in this study are roughly as likely as the mothers to admit struggling with their dual roles.  And many fathers would prefer to spend more time with their children than their work commitments allow them.
The whole report (fairly long) is worth reading.  It has interesting data on the amount of leisure time mothers and fathers have.  On the whole, fathers have more leisure time than mothers, except for sole breadwinner fathers who have quite a bit less leisure time than their partners:
When paid work, child care and housework are combined, parents in dual-income households have a more equal division of labor than parents in single-earner households. In dual-income households, fathers put in, on average, 58 hours of total work time a week, compared with 59 hours for mothers. In households where the father is the sole breadwinner, his total workload exceeds that of his spouse or partner by roughly 11 hours (57 vs. 46 hours per week). In households where the mother is the sole breadwinner, her total workload exceeds that of her spouse or partner by about 25 hours (58 vs. 33 hours per week).
    •    Men spend more time than women in leisure activities (such as watching TV, playing games, socializing and exercising). The gender gap in leisure time is bigger among men and women who do not have children in the house (37 hours per week for men vs. 32 hours per week for women). Among parents with children under age 18, fathers spend, on average, 28 hours per week on leisure activities, while mothers spend 25 hours on leisure.