In Time to Join #MeToo, Research Highlights Men’s Growing Support for Gender Equality
Two recent studies, presented to the Council on Contemporary Families, reveal that despite the serious obstacles still standing in the way of achieving full gender equality, progress continues. Married men are expanding their contributions on the home front, and data from the General Social Survey show men at their highest levels yet of support for gender equality.
Dan Carlson of the University of Utah reports on a new study with co-authors Amanda Miller and Sharon Sassler that expands on their earlier research: It had shown that sharing housework now increases happiness for heterosexual couples. The new work finds sharing housework is good news for the bedroom, though how good depends on what you’re sharing.
Carlson’s report on housework underscores what David Cotter (Union College, New York) indicates about trends in attitudes: When looking at men’s and women’s roles at home and at work, a stall in support for gender equality in the 1990s was followed by advances in the 2000s, and mixed results in the 2010s. But in 2016, support for all aspects of gender equality reached new highs. While men have consistently been less egalitarian than women since the 1970s, the gap between their attitudes has narrowed in recent years. “History seldom proceeds in a straight line,” notes Stephanie Coontz, CCF’s director of research and education, “but when you even out the ups and downs, the increase in approval of gender equality, at home and at work, over the past 40 years has been truly dramatic.”
In Not All Housework is Created Equal: Particular Housework Tasks and Couples’ Relationship Quality, Carlson shares a couple of intriguing findings:
- By 2006, the proportion of lower and moderate income parents sharing house cleaning had nearly doubled, to 22 percent, and the proportion sharing the laundry had risen to 21 percent, an increase of 129 percent.
- In 1992 the division of tasks mattered little for couples’ well-being. But, by 2006, couples who equally shared tasks demonstrated clear advantages in relationship quality over couples where one partner shouldered the load.
- Which tasks partners shared made a difference. Men who shared the shopping for their household reported greater sexual and relationship satisfaction than men who did either less or more shopping than their partner.
- And for women? Sharing responsibility for dishwashing was the single biggest source of satisfaction for women. Lack of sharing in this task was the single biggest source of discontent with their marital relationship.
In Patterns of Progress? Changes in Gender Ideology 1977-2016, Cotter provides four graphics that chart change.
- Overall, people have become more egalitarian about such issues as support for working mothers, whether men should be in charge at home, and whether men are superior to women in politics. The upward lines in Figures 1 and 2 tell it all.
- The change has more to do with generational replacement than anything else, as you’ll see in Figure 4. The younger generations—groups referred to as Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials–all trend together towards high levels of egalitarianism.
- The biggest news is that men are catching up to women, as seen in Figure 3. Men are still less egalitarian than women, but the gap between men and women has declined significantly in the past four years.
Where do we stand today?
Discussions about gender equality tend to invite that “glass half full / glass half empty” response, notes Stephanie Coontz, who reviewed these reports. “As we know from #MeToo, we have a long way to go. But to reach gender equity, we started with a very tall glass that had sat empty for thousands of years. The fact that we’ve filled it this far in just forty years should give us confidence to keep pouring.”