NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

March 4, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

When a piece begins “Working mothers have been steadily gaining ground as nearly half of family breadwinners” you know not only that you’re in for trouble, but what type of trouble you’re in for. And sure enough, the recent publication by an organization called Bright Horizons doesn’t disappoint. It’s yet another piece claiming that mothers work too much, men work too little and society needs to dramatically change to fix things.

In short, it’s what we’ve seen countless times before in different guises, but peddling the same shoddy goods.

The Bright Horizons piece is about the “mental load” mothers carry. That means the work of planning and keeping track of family activities from schoolwork to medical appointments, to extra-curricular activities to family vacations. It’s unquestionably true that mothers take on more of that burden than do fathers. But the idea that it’s a problem, much less one that society needs to address with extreme and costly measures is as dubious as the first sentence quoted above.

Yes, about 42% of U.S. households with kids have Mom as the primary or only earner. But that’s a factoid that obscures far more than it reveals. As Indiana University Law School researcher Judith Ryznar revealed years ago, the main reason why all those mothers are the chief breadwinners for their families is that they’re the only breadwinners. They’re single mothers. Their only competition for the post of chief earner is their kids. Ryznar noted that, when families with an adult male and female and at least one child are compared, only 13% have Mom as the primary earner. In the rest, 87%, Dad is.

So the first sentence of the Bright Horizon piece not only misleads, but I suspect it does so intentionally. Its brief is that mothers are overburdened, so convincing readers that women do as much – or almost as much – paid work as do men is clearly part of the mission.

Needless to say, it’s not true. Countless sources of data, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey demonstrate that (a) women do substantially less paid work than do men, (b) mothers do less paid work than do non-mothers (c) women are more likely to work part-time than are men and (d) women who work full-time work less than do men who work full-time.

Plus, organizations like Pew Research consistently show that both men and women prefer men to be the family’s primary breadwinner. A Forbes magazine survey found 69% of working women wanting to work less, while men tended to want to work more. A Harvard study found men valuing paid work and promotion more than do women. And of course countless studies reveal women opting out of paid work to do the work of mothering either full-time or as much as they can. The Census Bureau shows that stay-at-home-mothers outnumber stay-at-home fathers by over 30 - 1. Dr. Catherine Hakim’s analysis of data from all 36 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows women far less interested in paid work than in childcare and domestic interests. Etc., etc.

Now, some would argue that all that information and much, much more points in a clear direction, i.e. that women tend strongly to value the role of mother and arbiter of all things family-related more than they do paid work. Men tend strongly to do the opposite. The individual choices they make compel the conclusion that, whatever elite policy and opinion makers might wish, actual men and women are far less eager to abandon traditional gender roles than we might conclude from reading the mainstream press.

And the data cited by Bright Horizons only supports that conclusion.

Parent responses… show women are two times more likely to be managing the household and three times more likely to be managing children’s schedules. More than just responsible for their half of the parenting and household duties, these working mothers are also organizing, reminding, and planning everything else….

Most working mothers in the study — 86% — say they handle the majority of the family and household responsibilities; not just making appointments, but also driving to them and mentally calendaring who needs to be where, and when.

That’s right. But what Bright Horizons wants readers to believe is that mothers work as much as do fathers, but also do a “second shift,” i.e. the mental work of scheduling and keeping track of family matters. The problem of course is that it’s not true. The fact is that men and women work the same number of hours per week on average when paid work and family work are aggregated. And the latter includes the very things Bright Horizons calls the “mental load.” The BLS data show it as do those from the OECD.

The write-up of the Bright Horizons findings has a single linchpin. It wants us to believe that women are done dirt by men and a society that’s callous to the drudgery of which their lives consist. But that notion depends on our believing that, because almost half of family breadwinners are women, women do equal amounts of paid work to men.

Women and men may be working side-by-side as nearly equal parts of the workforce…

But they aren’t. That’s the key fallacy of the report, but hardly the only one.

More on that tomorrow.

#genderroles, #mothers, #employment

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