March 5, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
The Bright Horizons survey I discussed yesterday relies on a single factoid to make the case that mothers do too much housework and childcare and are therefore shortchanged at paid work. That factoid is that 40% or more of households have a woman as their chief wage earner. That’s true, but for the overwhelming majority of those (about two-thirds) the only reason Mom is the primary wage earner is that she’s the only one. The only other members of her household are her kids. But Bright Horizons wants readers to believe that, in general women are doing as much or almost as much paid work as are men, but are doubly burdened by carrying all or most of the “mental load” of seeing to family schedules, etc.
A record 40% of families have female breadwinners , and even those primary earners are roughly twice as likely as men to handle all household responsibilities.
See what I mean? Yes, they’re twice as likely to do all the household responsibilities because they’re the only adult in the house. Four year olds are lousy at balancing the check book, remembering doctor’s appointments and baking casseroles. But Bright Horizons never lets on about the “why?” behind their most-cherished datum.
What they’re complaining about, thought they’ll never admit it, is single-motherhood. Even a casual glance at the wealth of information on how men and women spend their time reveals that men do the lion’s share of the paid work while women do most of the household duties including childcare. There’s nothing sinister about that. In fact, it’s the way of life preferred by both sexes, as much data demonstrate.
And that’s another place in which Bright Horizons is woefully confused.
Deep-seated gender roles are costly across the board, holding women back at work in the short term, and compromising women’s growth across whole careers.
That’s the old theory we see so often. It holds that society and culture are, in some unexplained way, things apart from the human beings of which they’re composed. Some strange and alien thing called “society” created “gender roles” without asking for input from human beings, and now imposes those roles on unwilling individuals. So goes the theory.
But that, like most of Bright Horizons’ assumptions is silly. The fact is that we have very loosely defined sex roles for men and women for a number of very good reasons. They’ve been there for countless millennia and are with us today. They’re there partly because they work and all social mammals behave in gendered ways. Of course we humans live in societies that, particularly in the industrialized West, allow men and women to step outside of their traditional roles more than at any time in history.
But mountains of data show both men and women resisting that deviation. Overwhelmingly men see themselves as protectors and resource providers and women see themselves as caretakers of children and queens of the domestic scene. And men and women view each other in the same way. Bright Horizons would have no explanation for why the greatest predictor of divorce for a man is his loss of a job.
So what Bright Horizons is trying to change isn’t misogynistic oppression; it’s the choices men and women make every day. Whatever policy and opinion makers may desire, We the People aren’t at all certain that abandoning sex roles is a sensible way to conduct the business of society.
And don’t we have a point? After all, if men and women want to keep to traditional roles, why should elites tell them they can’t? That’s precisely what Bright Horizons is aiming at. It wants us to spend large amounts of money and hamstring business enterprise for the sole purpose of imposing on the rest of us behaviors we don’t generally desire. This is democracy?
Meanwhile, Bright Horizons leaves no doubt about its real goal.
Upending the order will require changing expectations. To allow women’s and men’s careers to flourish, employers will need to offer family-friendly benefits that appeal to both genders. Perhaps more importantly, they will need to ensure employees have equitable, gender-blind access to support. The goal is to change workplace cultures that quietly favor men as employees and women as mothers, and so to create environments and cultures in which mothers and fathers feel they can equally share the load.
Yes, it wants to “upend the order” of work and family, not because either men or women want to abandon their traditional roles, but because the likes of Bright Horizons deem it appropriate that they should. And as usual, businesses will be asked to sacrifice competitive advantages in order to accomplish the task. It makes no sense.
And of course Bright Horizons makes no mention of the one reform that would do more than any other to make the burden of work and family lighter for women. I refer of course to shared parenting. By cutting down mothers’ childcare obligations, shared parenting allows them to work more, earn more, advance more and save more for retirement. It also allows fathers more time with their kids that most of them say they want. And best of all, it’s good for kids.
So naturally it goes unmentioned by Bright Horizons.