Archive for the ‘Reverse Traditional Families’ Category


Saturday, October 16th, 2004

As described yesterday, I searched all over the internet to try to substantiate the claim that the number of stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) has increased by 15 percent in less than 10 years.

And finally, I found it: Table SHP-1: Parents and Children in Stay-At-Home Parent Family Groups: 1994 to Present. In fact, this table reports that the number of stay-at-home mothers increased by over 19 percent between 1994 and 2003, from 4.5 million to 5.4 million.

I hope that some of you are saying "but…" right now. Doesn’t 5.4 million sound awfully low? For perspective, there were over 93 million women between the ages of 16 and 65. How can this be right? The catch is that Census is using a very narrow definition of what constitutes a stay-at-home parent: you have to be a married parent of a child under 15, out of the labor force for an entire year, say that the reason you’re not working is to care for "home and family" and your spouse has to be in the labor force for the entire year. RebelDad did an excellent job least year of explaining the drawbacks of this definition, so I won’t repeat them.

Even though this definition isn’t perfect, this is the first longitudinal data I’ve seen on the number of stay-at-home dads (SAHDs), applying the same definition to a consistent data series over time. They found 98,000 SAHDs (using this narrow definition) in 2003, down from a high of 106,00 in 2002, but up from just 49,000 in 1996. However, because the number of SAHDs is relatively, there’s a lot of "noise" in the figures — I asked the Census bureau, and they said that the drop from 2002 to 2003 isn’t statistically significant. One way that statisticians deal with this kind of noise is to pool the findings from several years. So I compared the average number of SAHDs for 1994-1996 to the average number for 2001-2003, which suggests a whopping 50.8 percent increase. Just comparing 1994 to 2003
produces a 28.9 percent increase, also quite impressive.

One way to get a sense of the limitations of the definition is to compare this series to a similar one that just looks at married couples, and whether one, both or neither is in the labor force. This comparison indicates that in 70 percent of the married couples where only the husband was in the labor force, the wife met the definition of "stay-at-home mother." But in the married couples where only the wife was in the labor force, only about 10 percent of the husbands met the definition of "stay-at-home father."

One reason for the gap is the requirement that only spouses of year-round workers can count as "at-home parents." I’m not certain, but I think that taking maternity leave is considered as being "not in the labor force." If that’s the case, my husband wouldn’t have counted as being an at home dad last year, because I was on maternity leave for 12 weeks. Adding back in the parents who meet all of the other requirements to be an at home parent would increase the reported number of SAHDs by 60 percent, to 157,000, but the reported number of SAHMs only by 12 percent, to 6 million. I also think men are less likely to say that the reason they’re not working is to "care for family and spouse."

Ahead of the Times

Sunday, October 10th, 2004

File it under "it must be a trend if it’s in the New York Times." Today’s City section has an odd little article with the headline "Dr. Spock Meet Mr. Mom," which tracks the increased involvement of fathers in hands-on parenting by noting the increase in fathers showing up in pediatrician’s offices. Where 15 years ago, a father arriving in the pediatrician’s office — without his wife — was "startling," today "there are days when more fathers than mothers show up."

The article is about as stereotypical as it gets, complete with a cartoon of a man in an apron, holding a baby in one arm and a toddler with the other hand, with a bucket and mop nearby, and the obligatory references to Kramer vs. Kramer and Mrs. Doubtfire. The one novel comment is the suggestion by one of the doctors that he sees more involved fathers because the parents of his clients are older, and the women less willing to give up their "well-established professional identity." Certainly, older mothers are more likely to be earning enough to allow their partners to step back from paid employment.

The overall tone of the article is definitely "look at this odd little phenomenon." The author (Anemona Hartocollis?) is careful to note "for the record" that the one female physician quoted has four children and a nanny. The parental status of the two male physicans quoted is not mentioned.

Kidding Ourselves

Tuesday, September 14th, 2004

Today’s book is Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power, by Rhona Mahony. This is an absolutely fascinating book, published in 1995, that I don’t know anyone else who has ever heard of. I encountered it through a footnote in another book, perhaps The Second Shift.

Kidding Ourselves is almost two books in one. The first two-thirds is an attempt to answer the question of why so many smart ambitious feminist women in egalitarian marriages have kids and all of a sudden find themselves responsible for more than half of the child care and household work. As Naomi Wolf puts it in Misconceptions:

"Our generation did not think we were marrying breadwinners; we thought we were marrying our best friends. But the husbands were pulling rank in a way that best friends don’t do."

Mahony’s answer is that it’s a matter of power, and negotiating positions. And she goes through an interesting list of negotiating strategies that women can use to try to persuade their husbands to do more: Telling them how unhappy the current situation is making, make moral arguments about equality, offer other things in return that will make them happy, nag, threaten to leave. Some of these are more or less effective. Wolf makes similar points, and grimly concludes that men simply aren’t going to make real career sacrifices unless forced to, and women aren’t going to be able to force them to do it, because their threat to leave isn’t serious.

I found Mahony a more optimistic read, even though she also thinks that — on average — women are going to lose these negotiations, necause she believes that there are things that women can do to increase their leverage. The key point, however, is that these are mostly choices made long before the children are born — what career to enter, what spouse to marry.

Mahony argues that as long as women choose careers that don’t maximize their earning potential and that give them flexibility, marry men who have more earning potential and less flexibility, and care more for their children as infants, they will always wind up doing more of the child care and housework.

Is it Ms magazine that used to refer to "click" moments? CLICK.

The earning potential part is generally understood. The marriage point is interesting, because it’s not just about money. It’s that if you want a husband who is intensely involved in child-rearing, you have to marry someone who values it, even if it has a career cost. And career-oriented ambitious women tend to marry equally career-oriented ambitious men.

The child care is a point that I keep making to everyone I know. Child care is not an inherent skill. You can get some ideas of how to do it by reading books or taking classes or talking to other parents, but mostly you learn how to do it by doing it. And you make some mistakes — forgetting to bring a change of clothes on an outing, bouncing the child too much after a feeding — but you learn from them. Most fathers spend ridiculously little time on their own with their infants, which puts them behind. And once one parent is "the expert" and the other "the assistant" it becomes far too easy to maintain that role.

The last third of the book, much to my surprise, is a vision of a world in which breadwinning mothers and caregiving fathers are as common as breadwinning fathers and caregiving mothers. Like me (!) Mahony rejects the goal of having all families divide breadwinning and childrearing equally. She writes:

"Not all fathers can do half the child rearing, or want to, or should. Much more to the point, some fathers can do lots more, and want to, and should. People give the incorrect answer [a 50-50 future[, I think, because they can’t boost their imaginations over the hump of the present to imagine a future in which there really exists no sexual division of labor. "