Friday, November 10, 2017
Study after study shows that, among heterosexual parents, fathers — even the youngest and most theoretically progressive among them — do not partake generously of the workload at home. Employed women partnered with employed men carry 65 percent of the family’s child-care responsibilities, a figure that has held steady since the turn of the century. Women with babies enjoy half as much leisure time on weekends as their husbands. Working mothers with preschool-age children are 2 1/2 times as likely to performmiddle-of-the-night care as their husbands. And in hours not so easily tallied, mothers remain almost solely in charge of the endless managerial care that comes with raising children: securing babysitters, filling out school forms, sorting through hand-me-downs.
Empirical research shows that no domestic arrangement, not even one in which Mother works full time and Father is unemployed, results in child-care parity between heterosexual spouses. The story we tell ourselves, the one about great leaps toward the achievement of gender equality between parents, is a glass-half-full kind of interpretation. But the reality is a half-empty glass: While modern men and women espouse egalitarian ideals and report that their decisions are mutual, outcomes tend to favor fathers’ needs and goals much more than mothers’.
The result of this covert power imbalance is not a net zero. A growing body of research in family and clinical studies demonstrates that spousal equality promotes marital success and that inequality undermines it. And the disparity creates not only undue emotional, physical and financial strain on mothers, but also perpetuates attitudes about what is and should be acceptable — or even desirable — between a woman and a man, with children as their eager audience
Ideals are no substitute for behavior. What are kids to make of their father sitting on his phone reading Facebook while their mother scrambles to prepare them for the day? It’s not hard to predict which parent’s personhood those offspring will conclude is more valuable. Children are gender detectives, distinguishing between the sexes from as early as 18 months and using that information to guide their behavior, for example by choosing strongly stereotyped toys. And family research shows that men’s attitudes about marital roles, not women’s, are ultimately internalized by both their daughters and their sons. This finding is a testament to kids’ ability to identify implicit power, to parse whose beliefs are more important and therefore worth adopting as their own.