April 13, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Now, what many readers will have noticed about Brad Wilcox and Samuel Sturgeon’s article on young millennials’ views on sex roles within families is that, whatever the trend may be, there are still very few people who embrace the more traditional roles as described by the Pepin and Cotter analysis of General Social Survey data. Yes, 28% of respondents agreed with the statement that it is ““much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” But that means that 72% didn’t agree. They may have strongly disagreed, mildly disagreed or expressed no opinion, but, one way or another, they didn’t agree with the proffered iteration of traditional sex roles for mothers and fathers.
And yes, that 28% is up six percentage points from 1994. And yes, there seems to be a trend toward the more traditional approach to arranging married life. Those are all things worth knowing and pondering, but the fact remains that the trend proceeds gradually, if not glacially, and even now represents at most a very minor aspect of American family life.
Worse, it’s a trend in attitudes, and one of the salient features of young peoples’ attitudes about sex roles within the family is that they tend to change dramatically once the first child arrives. Stated another way, the young tend to bring to a marriage the idea that either the woman or the man can be the primary parent and either can be the primary earner. But once the first child is born, it is overwhelmingly the mother who does the majority of childcare and the man who shoulders the burden of supporting the family.
For my money, what people do is far more important than what they say they’ll do under certain circumstances. For whatever reason, more millennials than previous generations seem to be casting off even the pretense that they embrace the brave new world of gender interchangeability. Wilcox and Sturgeon want to believe that has to do with their experience of “choice feminism” despite the fact that only 18% of Americans call themselves feminists and obviously even fewer qualify as “choice feminists.”
So there’s likely a better explanation than theirs. My guess is that the 20+-year trend away from gender feminists ideals of the perfect home life has more to do with the fact that that notion has been such a resounding failure for all concerned. What’s painfully clear from any number of datasets is that, overwhelmingly, women with children prefer raising those children to toiling in the corporate rat race. (See Dr. Catherine Hakim on the subject.) Of course many women don’t have a choice; their families need their earnings. But working mothers tend to be less happy than their non-working counterparts, a fact that goes a long way toward explaining why so many mothers opt out of paid work altogether.
A lot of millennial young adults grew up in homes in which the mother was browbeaten by feminist orthodoxy that tried to convince women that, contrary to every known fact, what they really wanted to do was put the kids in daycare and work for a living. Those mothers were mostly unhappy with that choice and their children suffered the lack of a full-time (or mostly full-time) parent.
Plus, it’s just barely possible that millennials have noticed that fathers spending more time parenting hasn’t gotten them a better deal in family court. And of course many surveys find those fathers having difficulty meeting the demands of full-time work and part-time fatherhood. So the millennial males may have decided to opt for the traditional role that’s better accepted by society and doesn’t result in any greater penalty in court than that of the most avid dad.
Whatever the case, it’s no surprise that greater numbers of the children of those homes have decided the brave new world isn’t worth the price.
Finally, as yet another example of Wilcox and Sturgeon’s uneasy relationship with facts, there’s this:
Since the 1990s, married mothers’ labor force participation has stopped rising…
Hmm. That’s one way of putting it. Another more accurate way would be that, since the end of the 90s, all workforce participation rates haven’t just “stopped rising,” but are actually falling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workforce participation rates for women and girls 16 and over peaked at 60% in 2000. It has since declined every year to its current level of about 56%. Men’s and boys’ has similarly declined during those years from about 74% to about 69%.
Wilcox and Sturgeon seem to want readers to believe that only married women are tapering off work and their workforce participation has merely plateaued. That simply isn’t true. And it misleads the reader into believing that the trend in attitudes is matched by a trend in behavior. But if that were true, women without children would be working at the same rates as before and men’s participation rates would have ticked up. Neither is in fact happening.
There’s something going on with the U.S. economy that’s beyond Wilcox and Sturgeon’s purview, but that doesn’t permit them to cite cherry-picked figures to support the dubious proposition that millennials’ attitudes about sex roles have much to do with their actual behavior.
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