Thursday, March 6, 2008

Men Change, But Workplaces Not So Much

I find it heartening to wake up to this news bit sent to me by CCF this morning: Men have more and more stepped up to the plate in sharing housework and childcare. The longer a wife works, the more housework her husband does. Hallelujah amen.

According to a briefing paper prepared in advance of the 11th Annual Conference of the Council on Contemporary Families, April 25-26, 2008 at the University of Illinois in Chicago, ("Men's Changing Contribution to Housework and Child Care," by researchers Oriel Sullivan and Scott Coltrane):
For thirty years, researchers studying the changes in family dynamics since the rise of the women's movement have concluded that, despite gains in the world of education, work, and politics, women face a "stalled revolution" at home. According to many studies, men's family work has barely budged in response to women's increased employment. The typical punch line of many news stories has been that even though women are working longer hours on the job and cutting back their own housework, men are not picking up the slack.
But new research suggests that these studies were based on unrealistic hopes for instant transformation. Such studies, explain Sullivan and Coltrane, underestimated the amount of change going on behind the scenes and "the growing willingness of men to adapt to their wives' new behaviors and values."

In fact, it turns out, more couples are sharing family tasks than ever before. The movement toward sharing has been especially significant full-time dual-earner
couples.

Interestingly, whatever a man's original resistance to sharing, men's contributions to family work increase over time. In other words, the longer their female partners have been in paid employment, the more family work they are likely to do.

Bottom line is this: "American couples have made remarkable progress in working out mutually satisfying arrangements to share the responsibilities of breadwinning and family care. And polls continue to show increasing approval of such arrangements. So the revolution in gender aspirations and behaviors has not stalled."

But lest we we women of the second and third shift get too excited, here's where things are stalled: getting employers to accommodate workers' desires. And high earners are forced to work ever longer hours. Less affluent earners face wage or benefit cuts and layoffs that often force them to work more than one job. Aside from winning paid parental leave laws in Washington and California (with similar bills being considered in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York), families have made little headway in getting the kind of family friendly policies that are taken for granted in most other advanced industrial countries.

So even as American couples' beliefs and desires about gender equity have grown to be among the highest in the world, America's work policies and social support systems for working parents are among the lowest. Depressing, to say the least.

All in all, the "stalled revolution" in America is not taking place in families but in the highest circles of our economic and political elites.

For more information on this report, contact:

Scott Coltrane, Professor of Sociology, University of California
Riverside, (951) 827-2443; cell: (951) 858-1831 scott.coltrane@ucr.edu

Professor Oriel Sullivan, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Ben
Gurion University sullivan@bgu.ac.il, +972 86472056

(Image cred)

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