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The Changing Dual-Parent Family

Millennials -- the generation of 29-year-olds and under -- are the most convergent generation yet when it comes to gender roles and family life. That's the latest from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce released today by the Families and Work Institute.

When asked about whether they wanted to advance to jobs with more responsibility, millennial men and women answered equally (66 percent for women; 67 percent for men). And having a child doesn't change that desire for women, a first since 1992, when the question was first asked in the national study of the changing workforce.

In addition, millennial dads of children under 13 are spending more time with their children than previous generations -- 4.2 hours per workday. Millennial moms, by comparison, spend an average of 5.1 hours per workday with their children.

The good news about our nation becoming more egalitarian toward gender roles isn't just limited to the younger set, though. Nearly half of men handle childcare as much as or more than their female partners. And men say they are more involved with cooking (though women downplay those claims a bit). Similarly, men say they are more involved with cleaning the house; again, women disagree. In general, men are spending three hours per workday with their children compared with 3.8 hours for women.

It's "clear in this study that fathers want to be more involved with their families, and so do mothers," said Ellen Galinsky, the president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute. She points out that fathers' time with their children has "leapfrogged up."

This change in fathers began in the late '90s and early 2000s, Galinsky says. The difficult economy at the time meant that everyone knew someone who'd been downsized. Sound familiar? Then 9/11 made people step back and think about what was important in their lives. As those elements melded, women's earnings became more important, the differences in income levels began to close and women changed their definitions of caretaking from traditional roles to include economical elements. Eventually, technology made it easier to work from anywhere.

Now, 79 percent of all couples in the workforce are dual-earner families and women in these families earn 44 percent of their family's income. In addition, nearly three-quarters of employees believe that “a mother who works outside the home can have just as good a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” Three decades ago, only 58 percent of workers believed that statement.

So, what's the effect of our move toward egalitarianism? Fathers in dual-income couples, according to the study, now say they are experience conflicts between work and life more than mothers.

Given the current economic climate, in which more men are losing jobs than women, what shifts in family life are you seeing and experiencing? I, for one, have noticed a lot more dads at the pediatrician's office, walking kids to school and taking them to the park. Now that fathers are feeling the work/life balance pinch more, how should companies reshape their work/life balance initiatives -- or should they?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  March 26, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Work/Life Balance
Previous: Toddlers Really Do Hear What We Say | Next: 'In the Motherhood': The Reviews Are In


The recession is too early to predict major cultural changes. I do see men in the parks and doctors office. But not any more since 2007.

I think as far as the work life balance, that might be out the window. As more people get laid off, the one's remaining will feel more desperate and less likely to ask or demand flex time, telecommuting, part time assignments, or job sharing. I think we are going to take a huge step backwards in terms of companies willing to see the benefit in these alternative arrangements. The Post had an article about it last week.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 26, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

foamgnome is right. Desperate people don't negotiate, they capitulate.

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 26, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

Foamgnome has is right, at least in my limited experience. Not only are companies less receptive to alternative work arrangements, but they seem to be demanding more of their traditional workers, too. In a region with almost 10% unemployment, who's going to complain? In our house, this translates into an even greater shift towards traditional gender roles.

DH has always been an involved father and an active participant in household responsibilities, but lately work has made a real home life impossible. He's working longer hours, so he's down to about 1.5 hours a day at home while the kids are awake. And as soon as the kids are asleep, it's back to the computer for more work. He has no time at all for household chores, so I'm picking up the slack. I'm willing to deal with this disequilibrium as long as it's temporary, but my patience is admittedly wearing thin.

Posted by: newsahm | March 26, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Agree with foamgnome and the others. In general, a recession makes most employers LESS likely to support work/life balance issues and provide benefits, because their competition is tougher; it's more likely the company will go under; etc. Add in the fact that in some fields higher unemployment makes people easier to replace and you don't get work/life nirvana.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 26, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Here's Annys Shin's story last week that foamgnome is referring to:

Posted by: StaceyGarfinkle | March 26, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

My husband never had work/life balance so nothing has changed! He no longer works overtime so at least he is down to 40 hours a week but he has no flexibility in those hours.

As far as I can tell, my hours are still flexible and nothing has changed.

I guess that the recession still hasn't impacted our household financially. The mother of his children has had her hours reduced by more than half so she had to pick up a second job cleaning offices. This does actually impact us because we now have the kids every week night as well as the weekend. We see our SS for more of his awake hours than she does at this point. Hopefully she will get her hours back because I know cleaning offices does not pay very well.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 26, 2009 9:42 AM | Report abuse

One thing I have seen -- more parents are defining their own parenting roles vs. having traditional roles. In duel career homes parents tend to base parenting jobs on which parent has the time available and each parent's strengths. I think this is a good thing if the two parents involved can agree. But if you have things under control and then one work place becomes inflexible or makes the employee feel threatened ---then what stress that must put on the family!!

Posted by: coachjamie | March 26, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Meanwhile, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2009 moves forward in Congress....

Posted by: jezebel3 | March 26, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

It is still more acceptable in the workplace for women to ask for time off for family than it is for men. When I had my baby recently, people were shocked that I would "leave" her when she was 10 weeks old to go back to work. My husband only took two weeks off for her birth, and the same people said how it was nice he spent so much time at home. Until we overcome this bias in perception, there will always be gender inequality.

Posted by: jaybee2957 | March 26, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

We are in the process of having me go back to work so DH can leave his position (and we'll be moving, to boot).

I think people underestimate their worth, much of the time. Seriously - no employer wants to let anyone go to train a new person. And when an employer treats someone poorly - the first thing that that employee will do when they can is leave. So when the economy picks up the best employers will do much better, the worst, not so much. It's a terrible crying shame that an employer would treat it's employees good only in good times (cause, seriously - employers may not be able to give raises, and perhaps would even have to cut people's pay, but something like flex time, or other types of benefits that wouldn't cost the employer anything - are essential).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

jaybee: so true. We've been talking about it a little bit, how if my DH wants to go back to work at some point - how much more difficult it would be for him, and how I have had two breaks in employment, yet I still have employers wanting to hire me.

We're 'lucky' I guess (I put lucky in quotes because I think we make our own luck, much of the time...) - that I can go back to work and make most of what my husband does (it'd probably be closer to what my husband makes, if I didn't have the break in my employment), and many people don't have those options.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I agree very much with others that difficult economic times do not usually foster better work-life balance environments in the workplace. But I also agree with atlmom that sometimes people underestimate their worth and/or should be better about insisting on flexibility - not just for themselves, but for everyone in the workplace.

This is a big reason I recently took a pay cut to leave an agency and billable hours to work at a large association. I've only been in my new job for six weeks but WHAT A DIFFERENCE. I continue to be shocked (and grateful) for the fact that very, very few emails are sent after 6 PM or on weekends. I am able to leave on time every evening to pick up my daughter and am never stressed about leaving. I think my former employer was shocked when I left - they honestly had the impression that there were no jobs to be had in this economy and that I (and everyone else) would be "forced" to stick things out no matter how bad the pressure to work 24-7 got. Well - they were wrong. And I and my family are so much happier for the change.

Final note - I am encouraged by the fact that we're seeing more convergence in gender roles in dual career families - I think that is terrific!

Posted by: stephs98 | March 26, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

stephs: congratulations. That's awesome. And yes, I think that employers get a little arrogant in times like these. Just as employees get arrogant in 'good' times.

It's a relationship. And when you treat it antagonistically (from either side), well, then you reap what you sow.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Billie, that is terrible that your step-son's mom is not able to spend much time at all with her son-- and instead is cleaning offices. That must be heartbreaking for them both. She must feel terribly torn about what is the right thing to do-- be financial responsible, or spend more time with her kid(s)? Unlike Altmom, I truly do feel like I'm lucky that I don't face such a dilemma. "There but for the grace of G-d . . ."-- but why does G-d "grace" me and not her?

Posted by: captiolhillmom | March 26, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Companies so need to change the work-life balance - - there is absolutely no reason for demanding 10 hrs a day of one worker when you can get the same (or more, if you take the long view) of 2 workers at 5 hrs a day. I also wonder on that survey indicating that women earn 45% of the household income, how many of those women are earning as much as men for the same work? A small percentage, I will hazard. Women lawyers at the higher levels still earn on average $90,000 per year less than their male counterparts.

As for more cooking and cleaning? Yeah, my husband says he "cooks" - - he made fajitas once 10 years ago. But he does more of the kitchen cleanup than I do.

Posted by: ElaineatLipstickdaily | March 26, 2009 11:28 AM | Report abuse

"there is absolutely no reason for demanding 10 hrs a day of one worker when you can get the same (or more, if you take the long view) of 2 workers at 5 hrs a day."

Actually, there is, because when you count the total cost to the employer of the employees, one employee at 10 hours is almost always cheaper than 2 at 5 hours. (Unless the 2 part-timers get no benefits, which makes them cheaper which is why Wal-Mart et alia prefer the two part-timers to one 10-hour shift, but that's another story. We'll assume the employees get benefits.)

The French tried this back in 2000, making the 35-hour workweek the standard in law. One goal was to reduce unemployment, which was (and is) high there. If an employer had 4000 hours of work to be done each week, the theory went, then a 40 hour week would mean there would be 100 workers, while a 35 hour week would require 115. Voila, 15% increase in the work force. And no reduction in pay or benefits to the employees whose work week had been shortened.

The problem is that it doesn't work in practice. For a number of reasons. One is the cost of benefits - 115 workers getting benefits costs more than 100 workers getting benefits, which means that even if you reduce salaries so that you're paying the same cost per hour in wages, you're still paying more overall.

Another factor is that nobody is productive for the full length of his/her shift; there's always a start-up time and a wind-down time. And that tends to be pretty close to fixed, regardless of whether you're working for 7 hours or 8 (or 5 or even 1), so the proportion of productive time shrinks.

The bottom line is that the employers total costs are much higher with more employees working fewer hours each, which means that their goods and services are more expensive, and less competitive in the global market, which means that the employer loses business, which means you're back to higher unemployment.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 26, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse


I don't know about their mom but the kids seem not to mind where they are until they think the other household is a better deal at that moment. This is the second time she has been in this situation. So far, the only concern she has expressed to me (we don't talk much) is that that kids won't get enough sleep. They don't get home until 10pm which is very late.

I have heard... I don't want to go to to Mom's house and... I want to go to Mom's house, I don't like it here (after he has gotten in trouble and has been punished). I have also heard back that they say they want to go to Papa's house when they are mad at her or more generally ask when they are going to see me and Papa. I think it is a good thing that they don't mind living at either house. It allows us to be flexible without upsetting the kids too much when their schedule changes.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 26, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

capitolhillmom: I didn't mean it in an arrogant way, I hope you didn't take it that way. I do have sympathy for people going through tough times, but I do truly hate hearing: oh, you should feel lucky that your husband is working. Really? And he comes home grumpy and miserable because it's a horrible place to be? Should we feel 'lucky'? No. He is quitting, regardless of whether or not he or I find a job. Because we have no debt, we can have few expenses, we can muddle through without any income for a while. That is NOT due to luck, that is due to our lifestyle and how we live and how we save.

Yes, I would line up the streets for any job that I needed if I needed to feed myself and my family. If I needed to. However, I have set up my life so that hopefully (yes, hopefully - because luck DOES play some part, but as they say: luck is preparation with opportunity) I wouldn't have to do that (and yes, it was just plain ole luck that I got my master's degree in something that while I find it fascinating, it is in high demand. That was darn pure luck - cause I had no idea that it would be so valuable).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and ya know, bad luck happens too. Like when I graduated college during a recession and waited tables - with tons of other college graduates. Sometimes, well, things happen.

Sorry to hear about the kids' mom's troubles, Billie. It's good that you guys can help her out with the child care and all - and I'm sure you don't mind at all.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse


Initially, I was pretty disgruntled (and yes - I feel guilty about that). I am not big on change myself and it is a big change from having your weeknights to yourself to having 2 rambunctious kids.

Give me some time to adjust(say a week?) and I will be fine with it. Financially, you really can't do anything else because cleaning offices pays so poorly. Paying a babysitter would pretty much suck up your take home pay.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 26, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Billie: you've always been quite honest on this blog - but I didn't want to say: wow, you've got to make some changes, don't you. I'm sure it's tough - now you're more responsible for helping the kids with homework (isn't the oldest old enough...?).
And having them there more, when you're not used to it. But it's what comes with the territory and life, etc.
Yes, I'm sure there's some adjusting needed. But in the end, you have the time with the kids, and that's important, too...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Armybrat - you are right that France "tried" this, you are wrong that it didn't work.

Why is it posible for them as productivity increases to then reduce peoples' hours? Very simple. In France, benefits are cheaper for an employer since employers do not provide health care, the state does. And as for vacation time, many companies in France close for the entire month of August - so providing paid leave to more people doesn't matter if the entire place is shut down anyway.

The difference is that French people have typically valued leisure time more whereas Americans value buying junk and bigger "stuff" more. Now unfortunately as western Europe turns more and more to the US brand of capitalism, employers are pushing for the same type of system - workers can earn more by working more.

Also, to consider that Dads are equal becoming equal parents is shot down by the fact that only 3% of stay at home parents are the Dads.

Posted by: EAR0614 | March 26, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I find it curious that Americans think that a 35 hour work week won't fly.

Canada is another example of a country that has a less than 40 hour work week implemented. It is not done by law and I don't know if they still do it now(I have been gone for 12 years). When I worked in Canada, we had either a 35 or 37.5 hour work week. It depended on whether your lunch was 30 minutes or an hour. I know those 5 hours don't seem like much but I sure had a hard time adjusting to the longer work day. It seemed much longer than an extra 5 hours. And it didn't seem that Canada's unemployment rate was every excessively high relative to the economy.

Just my own unscientific, personal observations but it didn't seem that Canada was hurting by having their workers work less than 40 hours a week.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 26, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Now there are some fixed costs to having two workers versus one. But not everyone gets full benefits from their employer. My families health care, vision, and dental care all come from my employer. Those are the big expensive ones. My husband's employer doesn't pay a dime for my husband's benefits.

I don't think it is rationale to say all employers costs would double because not all employees are seeking the same benefit packages.

And correct me if I am wrong, workman comp, ss, and other benefits are based on earnings. So the employer is paying out by % earned. So if two earners each earn, $50 each, the ss tax for employers, workman comp etc is the same for one person earning $100.

Overall EAR is right, the Europeans value leisure time while Americans value stuff. Just look what our desire for stuff led us. Not that the French model is a good one, (high unemployment) but neither is our model. If our model was so great, we wouldn't be in the mess in the first place. It was Americas vast desire to consume that led us to live way beyond our means.

I think there was a hysterical quote in the paper last week.

"We can't get them to replicate Americans," agrees Paul French, the British marketing director of research firm Access Asia. "Americans are just so good at consumerism, like obesity and greenhouse gas emissions. Although the rest of us try, it is very hard to compete."
I swear, we should be embarrassed as a nation.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 26, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

My office officially has a 35-hour workweek. But I have yet to meet anyone who works those hours. We all work significantly more hours than that, many of us on weekends, too. It's the culture here and I would not advise anyone to fight it, in this economy. I'm just thankful that I have no children to worry about yet.

Posted by: messincm | March 26, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

EAR: You're paying a whole extra person. That DOES count as costing more, even if 'they're closed in August'. In any event, the French are not the hardest workers in the world - because their government has told them for years and years that they can work for so few hours, and they need to earn such and such and they should get so much vacation time and then they need to retire. So um, their lifestyle is about to implode because they're not really have too many babies - and people aren't dying to move there - and they (like we) can't support the ever growing number of retirees. They strike on a dime - all the time - causing havoc for other people's schedules. And it's normal for all the strikes to happen. Like all the time.

Is that what we want here? I just don't really get it - if you want to work more, work more. you want to work less, work less. Don't complain that someone else won't give you the work you want to do at the salary you want for the hours you want. They have the job, you want it. You want different - leave or create your own job. It's really simple. But I'm tired of the government becoming so much a part of every aspect of our lives - just leave us alone to get thigns done. Or else, we won't have the fortitude to get things done.
Billie: I'm with you re: 35 hour week. I had that when I worked in NYC - it's normal there, or it used to be. And I had a 1 hr commute each way, but still, it seemed like so many fewer hours.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

altmom: You know the problem is not the 35 hour week or the 40 hour week. It is that a 40 hour week job is assumed to be a 50-60 hour week job. Again, it comes down to take ownership in our own values. We value STUFF not lifestyles, health care, retirement benefits etc... We are also eternally optimistic.

One reason Americans are so against government intervention is we believe we can do it better, quicker, and make more money doing it. Hmm, how is that working for people now?

Posted by: foamgnome | March 26, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Army Brat - OT - any advice on replacing the outside spigot? It appears pretty straightforward, but I've learned as a homeowner that many things that appear that way, aren't.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 26, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

foam: actually, most of the mess we're in, IMHO is due to government. Overregulation here, underregulation there. Being told we can have everything we want, all the time, whenever we want, however we want - much of it by a government who just keeps borrowing without regard to who pays for it. By telling people that they don't have enough, blahblahblah.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

But in the end, WE are to blame, considering we keep sending the same people back to office. Then we're surprised that we get the same results (what's that quote about craziness again...?).
We need to elect people who tell us the truth. But they know the drill - if they tell us the truth, we will not elect them. *sigh*.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

But it's a dual edged sword. We are not a complacent bunch of people. Which gives us the innovation we have, the wealth and the lifestyle we have. We could become complacent (see: france) and then no innovation would come from us (not to say NOTHING comes from france, but seriously...).

So, it's the kind of place you'd like to live, I guess. We *are* considering moving overseas if this all continues...might as well, we're thinking.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Actually the big problem we have to day is a lack of regulation in the securities and insurance market. It has not been about over regulation. Now that might be the result. But we were in era of deregulation for several decades.

I honestly think the constant greed and commercialism is not the responsibility of the government. We brought that on ourselves. We misinterpeted the American Dream into that means I can have anything I want, when I want it and by my terms. Along the line, the American Dream evolved into the American Greed.

The problem I have is, we ask government not be involved (deregulation) and when we get in trouble we run to the government to fix our problems.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 26, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

foam: i agree with you - which is why i said over reg for some things and under reg for others.
But pretty much, what else you said is spot on. The reality is that we are financing our govt thru debt - which means we get govt services, which in essence is the govt saying that we can have what we want, but we don't have to pay for it now.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 26, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Careful, Jez. I've held an overseas job and it's a pretty sweet deal. Housing is paid for, a car is often provided, and you get at least a month of "home leave", with a round-trip ticket to the USA paid, every year. And if you're working for a non-US company, your income is tax-free. I saved a whole lot of money in the two years I did it. I love the USA, but I also loved that paycheck and those perks.

Atlmom, if you and your husband have transferable skills and you're comfortable with that kind of family upheaval, go for it!

Posted by: northgs | March 26, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

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