Shared work or shared parenting?
The role of men and women in marriage is a debated topic that Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell recently addressed in two pieces.
In “Men want women to be equal, but the system defeats them,” Rampell observes the difference in statistics from the Harvard Business School and from a wider American poll. The former looked at the chosen career paths of 25,000 alumni.
Rampell summarizes the portion of the study she found most interesting:
While Harvard women said they had (often wrongly) expected to land in egalitarian partnerships, Harvard men said they’d known all along that they would end up in relatively traditional, 1950s-style nuclear families. Majorities of men said that, at the time of graduation, they expected that their own career would take precedence over their spouse’s and that their spouse would take primary responsibility for the kids.
Contrast the Harvard findings with those of a 2011 CBS News poll. Asked what kind of marriage offers a more “satisfying way of life,” two-thirds of men indicated a preference for an egalitarian marriage – one where both husband and wife would share housework, childcare and working outside of the home. This was the case across income level and age group. Interestingly, the only demographic from the CBS News poll to report a majority preference for a working husband and stay-at-home wife are Mormons – a staggering 58 percent (compared to 30 percent of the U.S. general public).
Conversations about mothers and work tend to focus on the women’s perspective. Rampell, however, takes note of what men might be experiencing. She opines that men tend to have a “masculine mystique” that pressures them to be “strong breadwinners.” Bosses and co-workers are less than encouraging of men asking for flexible schedules or paternity leave. Men tend to earn higher salaries than their wives, making it less desirable to cut back at the office.
Perhaps these factors are related to survey data showing that “fathers today report greater levels of work-life tension, along with anguish about not being home enough, than mothers do,” says Rampell.
Despite what men and women state as their preference for the marriage-work-parenting balance, traditional gender roles are still a common way of “deal[ing] with the constraints they face,” Rampell says.
Rampell suspects that the Harvard respondents’ expectations of a more traditional family life are rooted in a practical mindset. “They spent two years studying how to develop successful careers and businesses, which includes understanding both how real-world companies work and what kind of team (at work, and at home) one needs to thrive financially,” she writes.
Most Harvard alumni belong to a socioeconomic class investing substantially more time with their children. Perhaps, Rampell suggests, this also might lead to the decision of having one parent work less in order to raise the children.
Sifting through the data and lived reality, Rampell maintains that systems – employers, social pressures and tax policy – are the deciding factor when it comes to men’s and women’s roles in marriage, rather than the opinions or preferences of the couple themselves.