UNDERSTANDING THE ASYMMETRY OF GENDER CHANGE
Paula England, Professor of Sociology, Stanford University
Sullivan’s and Coltrane’s paper gives us evidence that men’s roles at home are changing, though more slowly than many people had initially expected. The slowness, I believe, is part of a broader pattern of deep asymmetry in gender-related change such that women move into traditionally male roles more than men move into traditionally female activities. For every one hour women have increased their paid work, men have increased their household work or child care only a small fraction of an hour. For every hundred women going into a male-typical college major or profession, perhaps one man goes into a female-typical field. For every hundred parents encouraging daughters to play soccer, perhaps one encourages a son to play with dolls. Until we change how much culture, government, and employers reward the activities and jobs women historically did, it will be hard to get men to do them.
EXTRA BARRIERS TO EQUALITY FOR AFRICAN-AMERICAN COUPLES
Shirley Hill, Professor of Sociology, University of Kansas
The skewed gender ratio, or shortage of “marriageable” men, enhances the power of married African American men, while economic hardship makes the issue of marital equality almost moot among the thousands of low-income African Americans who simply lack adequate resources to marry. Neither the long tradition of dual-income families, nor the fact that African American women often have a higher occupational status than their partners, has negated the fact that women still perform most of the child care and housework in Black families.
A POLARIZATION OF EXPERIENCES?
Stephanie Coontz, Professor of History and Family Studies, The Evergreen State College
We have seen tremendous progress in building fairer, more flexible marriages. But fair and flexible marriages require better negotiating skills than marriages based on rigid rules. And it is sometimes hard for men to be flexible when their traditional sources of masculinity are under attack, as is true of the large numbers of men who have faced falling real wages and job security in the past decade. This may explain why marriages are becoming more stable for college-educated and economically secure couples but less stable for poorly educated and economically struggling men and women.
PARENTS NEED TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE SOMETIMES!
Joshua Coleman, Psychologist and Author of The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework
Equitable sharing of housework is associated with higher levels of marital satisfaction — and sometimes more sex too! Wives report greater feelings of sexual interest and affection for husbands who participate in housework. Paradoxically, however, the increase in parenting hours on the part of both husbands and wives may pose some threats to the couple relationship since many couples have increased their time with their children by eliminating or greatly reducing time for romance. This should be cause for concern as regular date nights are associated with increased marital quality and lower risk of divorce.
WHO DOES THE “INVISIBLE” HOUSEHOLD WORK?
Pamela J. Smock, Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan
When it comes to responsibility for less “visible” aspects of housework than chores or child care, the gender divide remains large in most families. Women still tend to do the “emotional labor,” noticing when things need to be discussed or resolved. They also do most of the “household management” planning, buying presents for birthday parties a child will be attending, scheduling doctor appointments, and marking things that must be done on the calendar on the refrigerator door. Finally, women still tend to do the “kin work,” calling relatives, arranging for holiday gatherings, sending holiday cards and so on. Until men begin to take responsibility for invisible household work, women will continue to shoulder more family work, and therefore to face more constraints in their freedom to engage in paid work.
WHAT DO FAIR MARRIAGES LOOK LIKE?
Barbara J. Risman, Professor and Head of Sociology, University of Illinois at Chicago
I studied several marriages that were completely equal in my book, Gender Vertigo. I found couples where men completely shared the emotional labor, nurturing and management functions of housework and childcare, as well as the physical work. Egalitarian families tend to be marked by exceptionally strong friendship between husband and wife, equal status outside the home, in the labor market, and, at least for the fathers, flexible jobs. Unfortunately, one barrier to equality in the home is that few fathers have flexible enough jobs to do as much family sharing as many want to do.
DO WIVES HAVE TO BUY THEIR WAY OUT OF HOUSEWORK?
Sanjiv Guptia, Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
I agree that men’s participation in housework and child care has increased significantly, but a 1999 study showed that when couples married, men tended to reduce their time spent on housework, while women increased their housework time. Furthermore, among married women employed full time, only their own earnings (not their husbands’) are associated with reductions in time spent on the most common household chores, such as cooking and cleaning. This may be because they use their money to purchase substitutes for housework, suggesting that families still feel it is women’s responsibility to either do — or arrange for someone else to do — the bulk of household chores.
GENDER EQUALITY IN AMERICA: GLASS HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL?
Virginia Rutter, Professor of Sociology, Framingham State College
Sullivan and Coltrane remind us of the good news about men and housework. But the current election rhetoric reveals that misogyny still runs deep in American culture–google Hillary Clinton and you’ll quickly get vivid illustrations of what I’m talking about. Many Americans still question whether a woman can be a good worker and a good wife or mother at the same time, and for many women, the pressure of such social skepticism (and the self-doubts it produces) leaves the gender revolution at home still high on the to-do list, not the have-done list.
The Council on Contemporary Families is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. Our members include demographers, economists, family therapists, historians, political scientists, psychologists, social workers, sociologists, as well as other family social scientists and practitioners. Founded in 1996 and based at the University of Miami, the Council’s mission is to enhance the national understanding of how and why contemporary families are changing, what needs and challenges they face, and how these needs can best be met.
To learn more about other briefing papers and about our annual April conferences, including complimentary press passes for journalists, contact Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s Director of Research and Public Education, at email@example.com.