This being the New York Times and a pre- Mothers Day piece, we’re not surprised to find it astonishingly anti-dad and utterly incurious about the realities of family life and the “work-life balance.” (New York Times, 5/4/19) Put simply, the writer, Darcy Lockman ignores the obvious, the not-so-obvious and basic common sense in order to excoriate fathers. Doubtless, come Fathers Day, she’ll turn her sights on moms. In the meantime, as an attack on dads generally, it’s also an attack on their right to have meaningful relationships with their kids post-divorce. After all, if fathers are as bad a bunch of ne’er-do-wells as Lockman pretends, why should they have even part-time custody of their kids?
It’s the same old complaint we read every year, usually several times a year: mothers, even working mothers pull a second shift; they do the lion’s share of the childcare and that’s not fair to them; fathers are clueless louts who not only don’t parent the kids correctly, they don’t do it very much. Needless to say, mothers are angry about the matter. Of course they are.
Lockman treats us to statistics.
Mothers still shoulder 65 percent of child-care work.In an article that’s chock full of links to other information, it’s interesting that there’s none in that sentence to a dataset. I found it so because, as is commonly known, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has long maintained the best such set of figures in this country. It’s called the American Time Use Survey in which people keep logs of what they do every day, broken down into numerous categories. Two of those categories include childcare and working outside the home.
Nowhere in the ATUS over the past 16 years do women do anything like 65% of the childcare. In 2017, for example, mothers performed 56% of the childcare and fathers 44%. That broke down into 2.17 hours for mothers and 1.69 hours for fathers, a difference of 29 minutes per day. In 2003, mothers spent 2.13 hours per day in childcare and fathers 1.55 hours, a 57.8%/42.2% ratio and a 35 minute difference. In 14 years, the difference in time spent in childcare changed by six minutes.
And paid work? In 2017, men worked 8.66 hours per day versus women’s 7.67 hours. That’s a split of 53%/47% and 59 minutes per day. In 2003, men worked 8.46 hours and women 7.40, a split of 53.3%/46.7% and 63 minutes per day. In 14 years, the difference between the time spent by men and women at paid work changed by four minutes.
Or, another way to say all of that is that there was no statistical change in the way men and women spent their time regarding paid work and childcare. Men did more paid work, women did more childcare.
In the world of the New York Times that’s cause for outrage and Lockman doesn’t disappoint. There seems to be a sort of pathological inability in this type of article to turn the coin over and look at the other side. So, according to Lockman, the imbalance in childcare is unfair to women.
Why are [women’s] partners failing to pitch in more?
The answer lies, in part, in the different ways that men and women typically experience unfairness. Inequality makes everyone feel bad. Studies have found that people who feel they’re getting away with something experience fear and self-reproach, while people who feel exploited are angry and resentful. And yet men are more comfortable than women with the first scenario and less tolerant than women of finding themselves with the short end of the stick.See what I mean? According to Lockman, the only inequality in families is in childcare. That there might be another in the world of paid work is an idea neither mentioned nor countenanced. She indignantly asks why men fail to pitch in more with childcare, but the same could be asked about why women fail to do as much paid work. But of course she doesn’t. Sufficient unto her need for outrage are the data on childcare. Those on paid work might interfere with that and are therefore avoided.
And then there’s Lockman’s real gripe that men’s behavior is all about privileging men at the expense of women.
By passively refusing to take an equal role, men are reinforcing “a separation of spheres that underpins masculine ideals and perpetuates a gender order privileging men over women.”Exactly how men’s spending an hour a day more in the rat race than do women privileges them, neither Lockman nor the authors she quotes explain. They don’t explain, I suspect, because to attempt to do so would require them to take a broader and, yes, fairer look at what men and women actually do. When that is done, it’s impossible to escape the realization that, when all work activities – paid and unpaid - are added up, men and women spend almost identical amounts of time each day, week and year. Given that, it’s hard to sustain a sense of righteous indignation which is what articles like Lockman’s are all about.
What publications like the NYT will never admit is that there’s actually a quite benign explanation for men’s and women’s behavior. Men tend to do more paid work because they’re evolutionarily “hard-wired” to be resource providers. Women tend to do more childcare because they too have a powerful biological tendency in that direction. Are people capable of reversing roles? Of course they are, but overwhelmingly, they don’t want to. They tend to be more comfortable in their age-old roles than out of them. Some 70% of men are in the workforce versus 56% of women. Stay-at-home mothers outnumber stay-at-home fathers by a 30:1 margin according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For men, parenting is also part of their genetic makeup, but, as Ruth Feldman’s team at Bar Elan University in Israel have demonstrated, fathers’ parenting role is secondary to mothers’. When Mom can’t or won’t do that job, Dad can and does step in. And when he does, he’s every bit as good a parent as she is. But until she drops out, he’s likely to be the fill-in parent.
Seen in that light, how mothers and fathers spend their time loses both its mystery and its ability to anger. That of course is highly unsatisfactory to the NYT that often seems to prefer men and women to be each others’ enemies, but alas for the Times, sometimes reality just doesn’t conform to our desires.
More on this next time.