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July 31, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Like a bad penny...

No sooner had I reported on a terrible article about at bad study of Australian men and women and their attitudes toward work and family than this article turns up about the same subject, but based on different studies (New York Times, 7/30/15). Fortunately, the Times piece is better than the one on Yahoo I posted about yesterday, but that’s not setting the bar any too high. Like the Yahoo article, Claire Cain Miller’s one in the Times fails to grasp the most basic ideas about how people solve the work/family conundrum.

From the outset, we learn Miller’s bias on the subject.

Young men today have aspirations of being hands-on fathers as well as breadwinners — supportive husbands who also do dishes.

But as they enter that more responsibility-filled stage of life, something changes: Their roles often become much more traditional.

Millennial men — ages 18 to early 30s — have much more egalitarian attitudes about family, career and gender roles inside marriage than generations before them, according to a variety of research by social scientists. Yet they struggle to achieve their goals once they start families, researchers say.

So we learn straightaway that, in trying to arrive at a suitable balance between earning and childcare, it’s men who have the problem, not women. Yes, Miller graciously concedes, men have egalitarian principles, but, when faced with the hard choices of everyday life, they “become much more traditional.” The unstated assumption of course is that women don’t; apparently they remain the fierce warriors for equality they always were. So naturally, if there’s a problem, it’s men who have to solve it, men who have to change.

That of course is stuff and nonsense. (See yesterday’s post.) The fact is that men and women both tend to opt for more traditional roles when the chips are down. They share the earning load before their first child, and then everything changes — mothers desire the maternal role and fathers tend to opt for being the breadwinner. The idea that mothers don’t much care about whether they work or stay home with the kids is contradicted by countless studies, biological reality and simple common sense. But Miller nowhere acknowledges those basic, well-known facts.

Her article refers to several studies that all show the same thing — that egalitarian attitudes have little effect, if any, on couples when they become parents. To Miller and two of the researchers she quotes, the problem comes down to the absence of policies men can utilize to do less paid work and more childcare.

The majority of young men and women say they would ideally like to equally share earning and caregiving with their spouse,” said Sarah Thébaud, a sociologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But it’s pretty clear that we don’t have the kinds of policies and flexible work options that really facilitate egalitarian relationships.”

That’s true of course, but what might those policies be? One that’s usually cited is the lack of paternal leave. In the U.S., there’s no federal law mandating leave for anyone, so it’s up to states and individual companies to offer that option. And predictably, those that do favor mothers over fathers.

Other suggestions have included things like government-subsidized daycare and the freedom to work at home.

But realistically, even if we adopted all those policies tomorrow, what would change? Even if we offered new dads a few weeks or months of parental leave, soon enough, that special time would come to an end. What would a father do then? He’d go back to work and do his best to support his family, that’s what. I’m all for parental leave for dads, but it’s a very temporary option that will in no way change the overall approach couples take to solving the work/family problem.

And daycare is hardly the answer. Handing the care of children over to others isn’t solving the work/family problem, it’s bringing in a third party to do it for you. Many people use daycare of course, but the amazing thing is that, in countries with the most liberal daycare and parental leave policies, women and men still opt for traditional roles.

Here’s the redoubtable Dr. Catherine Hakim formerly of the London School of Economics referring to data from the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Who works hardest? Feminists have long complained about women's 'double shift' — a term invented in the United States, and automatically assumed to apply equally in Western Europe, despite our shorter work hours and widespread availability of part-time jobs. Indeed, the European Commission actively promotes the idea that women carry an unfair burden, working disproportionately long hours in jobs and at home as well, juggling family and work (1). However time budget studies show that women's double shift is a myth.

 

On average, women and men across Europe do the same total number of productive work hours, once paid jobs and unpaid household work are added together — roughly eight hours a day. Men do substantially more hours of paid work. Women's time is divided more evenly between paid and unpaid work. Men and women do roughly equal amounts of voluntary work — contrary to the popular myth that women do vastly more than men. Results for Britain are repeated in the USA and other countries, despite differences in the length of working weeks and lifestyles. It is only in the poorer nations that women work longer hours overall. Indeed, in Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, men actually do more productive work than women.

 

The same pattern of equality in total productive work hours is found among couples aged 20 to 40 and those aged 40 to 60, so is reasonably constant across the lifecycle. In fact, an analysis by Susan Harkness shows that British men work longer hours in total than do women when there are children in the home, largely because men often work more overtime to boost family income at this stage, while wives switch to part-time jobs, or even drop out of employment (Harkness, 2008). Couples with no children at home and where both have full-time jobs emerge as the only group where women work more hours in total than men, once paid and unpaid work hours are added together. Feminists constantly complain that men are not doing their fair share of domestic work. The reality is that most men already do more than their fair share, and this is most pronounced in the 'gender egalitarian' cultures of Scandinavia. These conclusions have long been established by Gershuny's research, and are re-confirmed by the new time budget studies across Europe and North America.

That’s right, the countries with exactly the type of policies advocated by Miller and the researchers she cites have little-to-no effect on who does what at the office and at home. Indeed, one of the ironies of those policies that seek to force women into the workplace is that they actually increase the earnings gap between men and women. Why? Because women who’d normally be at home and therefore out of the workforce and not factored into the wage gap, tend to take low-paying part-time jobs which overall bring down the average incomes of women.

The simple conclusion is that women with children strongly desire to care for them as much as possible. Given that, men tend to shoulder more of the earnings load. For the mothers, that’s just basic biology. Millions of years of evolution have gone into connecting mothers to their children. Anyone who thinks mothers are going to start acting differently because someone declared we’re now living in a brave new world, needs to think again.

The closest the Times article gets to acknowledging any of these elementary principles is this:

Work-family policies strongly affected women’s choices, but not men’s. Ms. Thébaud said that occurred because women disproportionately benefit from the policies since they are expected to be caregivers, while men are stigmatized for using them.

Right. Parental leave policies that were always directed at women, encouraged them to do what they wanted to do anyway — stay home with the kids. They didn’t help fathers who were suddenly faced with all new expectations to work and earn.

But neither Thébaud nor Miller noticed the obvious.

If our goal is to convince mothers to care less for their children and dads to earn less, we’re probably barking up the wrong tree. Those traditional roles that all of a sudden seem to be considered wrong per se, will never be tossed aside so easily, nor should they be. What we should be doing is ensuring that, whatever arrangements parents opt for, children don’t lose one parent when the adults go their separate ways. Adults can take care of themselves and, absent clear irresponsibility, their choices should be respected.

Beyond that, there’s really not a problem.

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