Dad At Home, Mom At Work, Mom At Home, Dad At Work… And The Kids Play Wii All Night Long

Stan Guthrie interviews Brad Wilcox at Christianity Today on the future of families:

I think we’re going to see a continued growth of more egalitarian marriages in a large subset of the population. But we’re going to also continue to see what I call a neo-traditional model of family life. What I mean by neo-traditional is that it’s progressive in a sense that men, particularly religious men, are investing more and more—especially in the emotional arena—in their wives and children. But it’s traditional in that there’s still some kind of effort to, in a sense, mark off who is the primary breadwinner and who is the primary nurturer. That may mean that both the husband and wife are working in the outside labor force, but there’s still some effort to give the lead for breadwinning to the husband and the lead for nurturing to the wife. This kind of neo-traditional family model is here to stay. I think that prediction is somewhat at odds with what many of my colleagues in the academy would predict.

We have to think more seriously about family pluralism in the U.S. There are different models of family life in the United States, from single-parent families to more egalitarian married families to more neo-traditional married families. The first two tend to get most of the focus in the media. The third group gets less attention, but it makes up about a third of all families in the United States or more, depending upon how you describe neo-traditional. So they’re an important group. And what this research suggests is that the marriages in this neo-traditional group are happier and probably also more stable than the other forms of families in the U.S.

Annalee Newitz at IO9:

It’s unlikely that the female dominance of the working class will last very long. As Ann Friedman points out, the aspirations of job-seekers will shift with the market. Men who want a respectable working class income can certainly tackle nursing, child care, and food preparation with as much aplomb as women. What we’re likely to see over the next decade is a shift not only in how many women are part of the working class, but what kinds of jobs all working class people do.

Male nannies and nurses, in the minority now, are likely to become more common. The question is really whether female engineers will become more common too – especially since engineering jobs are among the most highly-valued in the market.

What will this mean for the future?

Jobs we think of as “pink collar” are going to become blue collar. Men will be working as nurses and housekeepers. This could be the moment when gender stereotypes really start to break down in the West. We’ve already seen images of professional women enter pop culture (and real life). Now we’re going to see images of men heroically supporting their families by working in child care. Nothing like turning child care into a source of cash to make it honorable and manly.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether this shift will mean upward mobility for families once classified as “working class” based on their income. In 2005, 77 percent of people in the top quintile of US households had two or more incomes. That means most families in the lower quintiles have only one wage-earner – most likely, a man. With two wage-earners, many working class families will ascend into the middle or upper quintiles.

But what about families that remain in the lower quintiles, with their single income? If women are now over half the workforce, it stands to reason that many working-class families will have stay-at-home dads. Ironically, these men may be doing the very jobs for free that their wives are doing for money – child care, cooking, housekeeping, and elder care.

Reihan Salam:

I get the impression that Newitz is right. Her argument dovetails with persuasive arguments about the direction of change in U.S. marriage and childrearing patterns made by feminist historian Stephanie Coontz.

But while Newitz is definitely on to something, I tend to think that the changing shape of family pluralism in the U.S. is cause for concern. Family forms have always been diverse, Ozzie-and-Harriet was always an imperfect portrait of family life for many if not most Americans. Yet the fact that the balance is shifting even further away from two-parent households is going to stretch public resources to the limit. My guess is that intact neo-traditional families that Wilcox describes in his work will continue to yield the best outcomes with regards to educational attainment and household income and hard indicators of emotional well-being — e.g., levels of abuse, incarceration, institutionalization, etc. Of course, it is also possible that technological and cultural change will mitigate these effects.

[…]

One wonders about the mechanism we ought to use to increase financial stability. Cultural change is a delicate process. British experience suggests that increasing transfers to increase financial stability and thus promote hedonic marriage among the less affluent isn’t a terribly effective strategy. Robusteconomic growth and job growth would be vastly preferable, though that prospect has arguably dimmed — not just because of the downturn, but because of structural shifts that could lead to further reductions in overall labor force participation among prime age males, a phenomenon that long predates the downturn.

Annalee Newitz has given us much food for thought, and for that we should be grateful.

James Poulos at Ricochet:

Men without jobs find it especially hard to summon the power — and, more importantly, the authority — to lead households. Nowadays, the problem is compounded. Increasingly, we look down on menial jobs in both the labor economy and the ‘knowledge’ economy — both outside the cubicle and within it — as “jobs American’s won’t do” in the first case and as simply emasculating in the second. In poor enough economic times, that view will change. But as Reihan recognizes, the downturn isn’t the decisive issue.

I’d argue the decisive issue is cultural. If our culture or its elites instruct us that there’s nothing particularly honorable about being a father and a husband, many men will take an attitude toward work profoundly different from the one they’d take in a culture where families led by fathers and husbands are singled out for particular honors. Indeed, even in culture indifferent or hostile to bestowing that kind of special honor, men often take it upon themselves to view work differently when they work as a father and a husband, and not just as a guy.

But when theirs is a work environment hostile to the idea that the work of fathers and husbands has a special, privileged character, the cultural problem deepens. Today, many Human Resources departments — in theory and practice — strive to eliminate any rank order of honor among employees. If anything, the honored employee is the working mother. The identity of the working father and husband, by contrast, becomes something of an obstacle to the whole Human Resources program — which, by now, with its corporate retreats and group confessionals and team-building trust exercises, the whole toolkit of therapeutic maternalism, is the subject of resentful but sadly resigned ridicule.

The key to keeping families intact and keeping men at work is simple: make jobs manly again. The irony is that the key to making jobs manly again is simple, too: restore fatherhood and husbandhood to the place of cultural privilege it needs.

E.D. Kain at The League:

Newitz is making a very big leap between point A and point B – between a more empowered female population and an anti-male revolution – and I see very little to suggest that the trends she’s witnessing are anything but temporary. Sociological trends are, after all, still trends. For instance, if we had looked at divorce statistics in the 1960’s and 1970’s we might have concluded that marriage was on the way out altogether and that extremely high rates of divorce were here to stay. However, since 1990 divorce rates have steadily decreased.

There is certainly no reasons to suspect that more women will begin opting out of the workplace in the future, but nor is there any reason to believe that this will lead women to choose single-parenting families simply because they are economically capable of doing so. Modern single-mothers are often at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, so the futuristic single-income, single-parent mother Newitz describes is not of the same demographic, making comparisons difficult.

In this sense, it is hypothetically possible that women will choose to raise families without men, but only in the same way that it is possible that people will decide that not only is marriage an undesirable life decision but companionship itself is irrelevant. I find this much less plausible.

Indeed, even if we do see a future trend toward single-parenting and fatherless families by choice, I suspect we will see an even stronger social backlash to this as children who are raised without fathers grow up resistant to the idea, much as many children from divorced families grow up bitter at their parents decision to split. As divorce rates have come down, I imagine single-parenting rates will fall as well, even if marriage rates themselves do not necessarily recover.

If one considers the single-mothering trend a reaction to the traditional qua traditional family unit with the man as breadwinner and head of household and the woman as housekeeper and child-rearer, then one should also note that the neo-traditional family is a similar if less radical reaction. Neo-traditional families are also more sustainable than either very traditional or very non-traditional or single-parent families because they maintain much of what was good about traditional family roles, but couple them with higher family income, a better division of labor and more modern sexual and parenting roles.

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1 Comment

Filed under Families, Feminism

One response to “Dad At Home, Mom At Work, Mom At Home, Dad At Work… And The Kids Play Wii All Night Long

  1. Change is difficult for most people regardless of their age, profession and circumstances. People avoid change for a host of reasons that most often center around fear – the fear of failure. Oftentimes people have simply accepted their circumstances – regardless of whether or not it makes them fulfilled – and they have lost the belief that there is still a dream out there for them to pursue. They lack the confidence to take a risk and without a solid plan in place they don’t know how to proceed.

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