Photo by Chris Hunkeler, Flickr CC.
Photo by Chris Hunkeler, Flickr CC.

August 26 was Women’s Equality Day. Established in 1971, the day commemorates passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. But political equality did not begin to extend to economic equality or marital equality until the 1970s, despite passage of the Civil Rights and Equal Pay Acts in the mid-1960s. As late as 1975, women earned only 60 cents for every dollar a man earned, and no state had yet repealed the laws that gave a man immunity from raping his wife.

Since then, women’s progress in upward occupational mobility and earnings has been dramatic. Dual-earner marriages are now the norm, women now outpace men in educational achievement, and growing numbers of wives out-earn their husbands.

For many years, however, women’s gains seemed to destabilize marriages and threaten family formation. As women entered the workforce, marriage rates fell and divorce rates soared. Fertility plummeted, and policy-makers worried that career-oriented women were turning their backs on motherhood entirely. Some early studies suggested that when wives got their husbands to do housework, they were more likely to get beaten up (Fuchs 1988), or at the very least, to have less happy sex lives.

Many of these developments, however, were products of a transitional period of adjustment, especially marked in the 1970s and 1980s, when women embraced gender equality more quickly than did men and experienced widespread discontent with the persistence of traditional marriage and family arrangements.

The gender revolution is nowhere complete, but there is now evidence that the further progress of the gender revolution is in many cases resulting in a certain restabilization of family life.

  • In the US and many other countries, divorce rates have fallen among couples who express the greatest support for gender equality. Women’s higher education and earnings now seem to help rather than hurt their marriage chances.
  • In Sweden, women with a high career orientation are now more likely to enter a union than other women (Thomson and Bernhardt 2010). And in other countries with strong work-family support systems (Finland and Norway as well as Sweden), dual-earner marriages are now less likely to divorce than male breadwinner ones (Cooke et al 2013).
  • In US marriages formed in the early 1990s and since, couples who share housework report higher marital quality and better sexual relationships than those with a more traditional division of labor. And even among older men (ages 51-92) those with egalitarian gender role attitudes report much higher levels of marital happiness than otherwise comparable men with traditional attitudes (Kaufman 2006).
Photo by Anne Worner, Flickr CC.
Photo by Anne Worner, Flickr CC.

Men’s increasing involvement in child care and housework (Sullivan, et al. 2014) seems to be critical here.

  • An analysis of 13 industrialized countries (Sevilla-Sanz 2010) found that men with more egalitarian attitudes were more likely to form a romantic union and particularly to cohabit than men with less egalitarian attitudes.
  • Among cohabitors, men who were involved in the care of their children (providing care when the mother was absent, taking children to daycare and medical appointments) were more likely to make the transition to marriage than those less involved (Kotila 2014).

In fact, such men’s involvement seems to make women more willing to have children.

  • Studies show that when men are more involved with their children after the birth of a first child, a couple is more likely to have a second child. This is the case both in Sweden (Goldscheider, Bernhardt and Brandén 2013) and the US. In the US, the big difference was between the most sharing couples and those who shared inconsistently (81 percent of the former had a 2nd child compared with only 55 percent of the latter [Torr and Short 2006]).
  • This may be why fertility patterns in Europe are changing: In the 1970s, the countries in Europe with the lowest levels of women’s employment (primarily in southern Europe) had the highest fertility; by the 1990s this relationship had reversed, with the countries of northern Europe, which have the highest levels of women’s employment, also having the highest fertility.


Fuchs, Victor R. 1988. Women’s Quest for Economic Equality, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Kotila, Letitia. 2014. “The role of father involvement in the union transitions of cohabiting parents.” Paper presented at the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, Boston, MA.

Kaufman, Gayle. 2006. “Gender and marital happiness in later life,” Journal of Family Issues 27(6):735-757.

Torr, Berna Miller and Susan E. Short. 2004. “Second births and the second shift: A research note on gender equity and fertility,” Population and Development Review 30:109-130.

Goldscheider, Frances, Eva Bernhardt, and Maria Brandén. 2013. “Domestic gender equality and childbearing in Sweden,” Demographic Research 29 (40):1097-1126.

Cooke, Lynn, et al. 2013. “Labor and love: Wives’ employment and divorce risk in its socio-political context,” Social Politics 20(4):482-509.

Sullivan, Oriel, Francesco Billari, and Evrim Altintas. 2014. “Father’s changing contributions to child care and domestic work in very low fertility countries: The effect of education,” Journal of Family Issues 35(8):1048-1065.

Sevilla-Sanz, Almudena. 2010. “Household division of labor and cross-country differences in household formation rates,” Journal of Population Economics 23: 225-249.

Released originally on August 25, 2015.

Frances Goldscheider is the College Park Professor of Family Science at the University of Maryland.

This paper is part of the Council on Contemporary Families Gender Revolution Rebound SymposiumThe growing wage premium for long work hours slows progress toward gender equality. If the relative hourly wages for overwork had stayed constant between 1979 and 2007, the gender gap in wages would be about 10% smaller than it is today.

The new data presented by David Cotter and his co-authors suggest that support for gender equality and respect for women’s ability to combine work and family have resumed their upward progress. Other evidence reveals that millennial men express greater interest in more involved fatherhood and want more balance between work and family than previous generations. However, it remains to be seen whether these ideological changes will substantively reduce such structural inequalities as men’s continuing earnings advantage over women and women’s underrepresentation in highly paid occupations.

The rise in overwork

Image via Kevin Dooley via Flickr Creative Commons.
Image via Kevin Dooley via Flickr Creative Commons.

My research with Kim Weeden suggests that one reason for the stall in gender equity during the 1990s was a change in typical work weeks and remuneration patterns, which could reinforce a gendered division of labor in many households. This period saw a significant rise in “overwork,” the practice of consistently working 50 hours or more a week, along with a dramatic increase in the financial incentives for working long hours. My earlier research suggests that these trends may have encouraged some couples to revert to a more traditional division of labor, by increasing the likelihood of wives’ quitting their jobs and prioritizing husbands’ careers.

The history and significance of overwork

Since salaried workers are not directly paid for overtime, those who put in longer hours than their coworkers, at the same salary level, may end up being paid less per hour. And in fact, in the 1970s, workers who put in 50 or more hours per week earned less per hour than comparably educated and experienced workers who worked an ordinary full time shift. As of the early 1980s, fewer than 9 percent of workers put in 50 hours per week or more.

In the mid 1990s, however, employees who worked long work weeks began to receive wages so much higher than their regular full-time counterparts that they actually earned more per hour. This wage premium for overwork has continued to increase since then. By 2009, overworkers were earning about 6 percent more per hour than their full-time counterparts. This creates a substantial incentive for overwork – and a substantial penalty for working “just” full-time.

Overwork as a vicious cycle

Looks like he's got a big job ahead of him. Photo by The Preiser Project, Flickr CC.
Looks like he’s got a big job ahead of him. Photo by The Preiser Project, Flickr CC.

Overwork also creates a vicious cycle, in that the more workers take advantage of the financial rewards of overwork, the less other workers are seen as productive. This exacerbates what Joan Williams calls the “ideal worker norm,” in which workers are seen as truly dedicated only when they give undivided attention to work and are willing to be on call 24/7, whenever their employer, supervisor, colleagues, or clients need them. Those who do not work long hours, or those who take time off from work for family responsibilities, are viewed as uncommitted, not serious about their careers, and lacking in loyalty to the organization.

Overwork helps explain the gender wage gap

The growing wage premium for long work hours, we believe, has slowed progress toward gender equality. Because women’s work hours are generally more limited by their greater responsibility for childcare and housework, there is a consistently large gender gap in who is willing and able to work long hours. Women are less likely to benefit from this rising wage premium for overwork and to reap the rewards for being an “ideal worker.” As of 2007, 17 percent of men, but only 7 percent of women, were working 50 or more hours a week.

Our analysis indicates that if the relative hourly wages for overwork had stayed constant between 1979 and 2007, the gender gap in wages would be about 10 percent smaller than it is today. The effect of the rising relative hourly wages for overworkers on the gender wage gap trend was large enough to essentially offset the pay-equalizing effect of women’s gains in educational attainment during this period!

It is encouraging to learn that approval of more egalitarian work and family arrangements has been growing again and is especially strong among millennials. But in order to turn this ideological progress to a reduction in structural inequalities such as the gender gap in pay, employers and policy-makers need to recognize that the majority of workers have children, older parents, and/or working spouses and to set a more realistic standard for what constitutes a “good worker.”

July 30, 2014

Youngjoo Cha is in the sociology department at Indiana University–Bloomington. She studies the sources of gender inequalities in labor market processes and institutional contexts.

Despite substantial increases in married mothers’ employment and the expressed desire of the majority of women and men to share employment and caregiving responsibilities, gender remains the most influential determinant of who does the housework and child care today. Many observers have attributed the seeming unwillingness of men to increase their time in housework and child care as the linchpin of gender inequality, a manifestation of men’s patriarchal power to prioritize activities that provide economic rewards, such as paid work, or enjoyment, such as leisure (Goode 1992; Jackman 1994).

One strain of feminist and academic scholarship holds that men feel no need to do more child care or housework because they reap the benefits of marriage and fatherhood (e.g. marriage and fatherhood wage premiums, living in a clean, well-run household, and children’s performance of filial duties) without having to spend time producing them — cooking, cleaning, or taking on the everyday, physical care of children. Rather, they can expect wives and mothers to shoulder the burden of feeding and caring for children and families, regardless of women’s other time demands. Such an analysis builds on the work of Jessie Bernard, an influential feminist sociologist, who argued that marriage is a gendered institution that privileges men and disadvantages women.

One key assumption of this argument has been that men do not want to become involved with children except when they can have fun with them. But this argument does not hold up when we analyze both the quantitative time diary data on mothers’ and fathers’ child care time and the qualitative literature on what fathers want. Instead, careful examination reveals a more complex story about the interplay between gender, marriage, parenthood, and class-differentiated patterns of childrearing that are more about ensuring upward mobility among children than about gender oppression.

Trends in housework and child care based on time diary data.

Analysis of time diary data on household and care work in the United States from 1965 to 2012 indicates that women’s and men’s housework and child care are much more similar today than they were fifty years ago. This greater gender similarity has been achieved through two main routes. First, there has been a steep reduction in women’s housework, along with a more modest increase in men’s housework, though with much less change occurring after 1985. Second, both mothers and fathers have increased the time they spend caring for children, resulting in diminished though still substantial gender differences in child care time and activities.

Specifically, women’s daily housework dropped by one hour and 45 minutes between 1965 and 2012, falling from four hours a day to less than two-and-a half hours a day. Only 19 minutes of the decrease occurred after 1985. Men’s housework tripled, after starting from a much lower base, rising from only 36 minutes in 1965 to one hour and 40 minutes in 1998. Some evidence indicates that after 1998 it then decreased by about 20 minutes (to one hour and 23 minutes) by 2012. However, this dip may result simply from the smaller sample size in 1998, compared to data from the 2000s, and methodological differences in the surveys. The 2004 and 2012 data were based on much larger samples (about 14,000 women and men), and were part of an annual, nationally representative survey collected by expert interviewers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 1998 data were based on only about 1,000 women and men, although they were still nationally representative. Despite this finding, which may or may not result from an actual stall, the data point to substantial increases in men’s housework since 1965.

It is particularly important to note that the increases in men’s domestic work come primarily from increases in core household tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. In 1965, men reported only 16 minutes a day of core housework; in 2012, they reported 40 more minutes, with half of the increase coming from daily cleaning. This suggests that the changes are not simply the result of men taking on more of the discretional or enjoyable jobs. Men’s core housework remains lower than women’s, but because men continue to have longer employment hours than women, this might be because men have less time available for housework each day.

Slightly fewer women today than in the past report doing housework on the diary day they are asked to record in time-use studies (88 percent in 2012 compared with 96 percent in 1965), and those who do housework report spending less time at it, suggesting a broad disinvestment of women in cooking, cleaning and other household work. In contrast, significantly more men report housework on the diary day: about 70 percent since 1985, up from just barely half in 1975 and 1965. In sum, gender differences in housework have diminished considerably, with fewer women and more men doing the daily housework today than in earlier decades. In 1965 married mothers reported doing a staggering 22 times as much cooking, cleaning and laundry as married fathers; today the comparable ratio is 3.4.

Fig 2.1

That’s the glass half-full story. The glass half-empty story emphasizes the continued gendered disparities in housework. Women still did 1.7 times men’s housework in 2012, compared with 6.8 times in 1965. This is progress, but why haven’t we seen more change?

Comparisons of housework by marital, parental, and employment status offer some clues.

One would think that single women and men without children would have similar levels of housework, because they aren’t living in the same household with a partner or children. This reduces the demand for cooking, cleaning, and laundry, meaning that individual standards of cleanliness may be a bigger determinant of housework then the more inflexible demands of family life.

Yet time diary data show that in 2012 single women with no children reported doing almost twice as much cooking, cleaning, and laundry as single men with no children. This is lower than the ratio in 1965, when single women with no children were doing about five times as much core housework. And single women and men have more similar patterns than with married parents, where mothers report doing almost four times as much core housework as married fathers. Nevertheless, there is still a substantial difference in household workloads between single, childless men and women, and it is not one that can plausibly be explained by men’s exercise of patriarchal power.

Fig 2

Closer inspection suggests that it is laundry and cleaning, more than cooking, that accounts for most of the differences in the amount of housework single men and women choose to do or not do. For example, in 2012, single women with no children report 13 minutes a day of laundry and 31 minutes cleaning. By contrast, single men report only seven and 17 minutes per day respectively in the same tasks.

Differences between single women and men with no children, and women and men who are married and/or parents follow similar lines. Married women without children and married mothers do about 20 minutes of laundry and about 45 minutes of daily cleaning. Comparable estimates for married men and fathers are less than five minutes in laundry and about 15 to 20 minutes of daily cleaning.

But does men’s lower time spent cleaning and doing laundry reflect the exercise of male power? Single women are certainly not cleaning and doing laundry to provide these services to partners, or to maintain a partner’s high(er) standards. Instead, the higher levels of laundry in particular point to gendered expectations about appearance and the myriad of ways femininity requires time devoted to maintaining the latest fashions, in clothing and household décor. It also underscores the ways that “doing gender” structures identities, as well as interactional dynamics in couples, social norms about femininity and masculinity, and institutions.

In other words, some of the differences in men’s and women’s household activities may not stem from unfair interpersonal power dynamics but from entrenched individual and cultural beliefs about “essential” qualities of being a woman versus being a man. Many women and men may even have a vested interest in maintaining some distinctions in housework – and child care – because of the ways these reinforce their sense of gender identity.

On the other hand, some of the difference may come from larger gender inequities in earnings. Some housework has to be done, even by single individuals, to meet daily needs for food, clean clothes, and domestic hygiene. Some of this work can be outsourced by eating meals out, buying convenience foods, or using drycleaners. But outsourcing may be more difficult for single women reliant on wages still only averaging less than 80 cents for every dollar a single man earns.

Historically, analysis of the gendered division of labor has focused more on housework than child care. This fit with the 1950s ideology that good wives prioritized providing a “haven” for men, cosseting husbands after a hard day’s labor with a good meal, a clean house, a comfortable recliner, and happy children quickly tucked into bed after a hello and a hug from fathers. But analysis of housework alone is insufficient to understanding the complex picture of gender equality today. The influence of marriage on the gendered division of labor has waned.

Today parenthood is the role associated with a more gendered division of housework, even among couples with relatively egalitarian patterns before the birth of the child (Grunow, Schulz, and Blossfeld 2012). Studies that track women and men as they transition into marriage and parenthood indicate that newly married couples in first marriages share employment and housework relatively easily, but becoming a parent creates a more gendered division of labor. On average, fathers increase paid work time and decrease housework; mothers do the opposite.

Among parents, the ratio of women’s child care to men’s has declined, but less dramatically than the housework ratio, falling from 7.0 to 2.1 for everyday physical care of young children.

However, in this case, the partial convergence does not result from decreases in mothers’ time. Unlike the downward trend in women’s housework and the more modest uptick in men’s housework (which stalled in the mid-1980s), mothers and fathers have both steadily increased their time investments in daily and developmental child care since 1975.

Among mothers, child care time did decline significantly between 1965 and 1975, falling from one and half hours to less than one and a quarter hours. This time held steady until 1985, then rose to almost two hours in 2004 and 2012. Fathers’ child care was stable from 1965 to 1985, at about 20 minutes a day, but then increased by 41 minutes by 2012.

Moreover, fathers have not just increased their time in the more rewarding activities of developmental child care (e.g. teaching and playing with children) but also in the daily physical care of young children (feeding, bathing, soothing, and closely supervising them). In 1965, married fathers reported 11 minutes per day in daily physical care, and another 11 minutes in developmental care. By 2012, their daily care (the core work of childcare) had tripled to 34 minutes and their development care had doubled, to 25 minutes.

Married mothers are still doing more physical child care than married fathers, and the gap has remained stable at about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, mothers too have increased their developmental time (teaching and playing). This has more than quadrupled, from seven minutes in 1965 to 31 minutes a day in 2012, not significantly different than married fathers’ 25 minutes.

Mothers’ and fathers’ high levels of developmental child care time reflect new cultural norms of parenting that demand high investments of resources – time and money – in children. “Good” parents are those who prioritize children’s care and activities over their own needs and desires. Good parents are “experts” in children’s needs and developmental processes, and exercise intense, hands-on supervision of children’s whereabouts and activities. “Free range” children, meaning those who independently play outside or walk to activities, were relatively commonplace in the 1950s, but are remarkable enough today to result in visits from child protective services.

Child care remains a highly gendered activity. Again, this does not seem to stem primarily from fathers’ intransigent exercise of patriarchal power. Mothers are held accountable to standards of intensive parenting to a greater extent than fathers, but qualitative data suggest fathers today feel that children are entitled to men’s close attention and time (Daly 1996; Daly 2001) and fathers and mothers both report feeling they spend too little time with children (Milkie et al. 2010). In fact, studies suggest that some mothers may limit fathers’ involvement with children to maintain control over childrearing, a phenomenon referred to as maternal gatekeeping (Allen and Hawkins 1999; Schoppe-Sullivan et al. 2008).

Childrearing practices are influential mechanisms of class reproduction. The “concerted cultivation” model of parenting practiced by employed, married, middle-class parents requires that parents supervise children’s participation in extracurricular activities and devote many hours to developing children’s language and reasoning skills. These investments of time build children’s human and social capital and broad cultural competence. “Concerted cultivation” parenting is as much or more about parental anxiety over children’s economic futures as it is about perpetuating gender inequality, even if it does end up doing so. Today, ensuring that children are upwardly mobile is thought to require admission to and graduation from an elite college, because this improves children’s prospects of securing a middle-class job in times of heightened economic insecurity.

Support for this class-based interpretation can be found in the fact that parents with a college education do more child care compared to those without a college education, despite the fact that college-educated Americans are more likely to express support for equal sharing of paid work and child care. The positive influence of college on parents’ time in child care activities intensified between 1965 and 2012, with the gap between college-educated and non-college-educated parents’ child care time doubling over the period. In 1965, college-educated mothers reported about 20 more minutes in child care than mothers without a college education; in 2012, the difference was over 40 minutes a day. Among fathers, those with a college education did 16 more minutes of child care in 1965 and just under 30 minutes in 2012. Hence, the rate of positive increase in child care time is stronger among college educated parents. Because college increases mothers’ and fathers’ child care time, however, the gender gap in care remains similar when we compare college- and non-college-educated parents.


Married men today are doing about one hour of household work and one hour of child care on top of their employment. Most married women are also doing at least a part-day second shift. And many women and men are raising children without a partner in the household. So all parents are working longer hours in paid work, housework, and child care, leaving less time for leisure and sleep. Parents report feeling more pulled between “work and family,” with little time for individual or couple time. Is this gender nirvana? Hardly. There is more opportunity for men and women to share the joys of family life, but also more pressure to share the stresses.

Taking advantage of the positive aspects of gender change requires substantial shifts in workplace cultures that valorize long work hours and primary allegiance to work over family. Getting fathers more involved in housework and child care is insufficient, and possibly impossible given the long work hours that are so common for college-educated professionals. And gender equality won’t come from mothers devoting less time to child care; indeed quantitative and qualitative data highlight how mothers protect child care time from other time demands. The best way to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is by making it possible for all parents to stop being forced to choose between the rewards of caregiving and those of secure and supportive employment.



Allen, S.M. and A.J. Hawkins. 1999. “Maternal Gatekeeping: Mothers’ Beliefs and Behaviors That Inhibit Greater Father Involvement in Family Work.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61:199-212.

Daly, K.J. 1996. “Spending Time With the Kids: Meanings of Family Time for Fathers.” Family Relations 45:466-476.

—–. 2001. “Deconstructing Family Time: From Ideology to Lived Experience.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 63:283-294.

Goode, W.J. 1992. “Why Men Resist.” Pp. 287-310 in Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions, edited by B. Thorne and M. Yalom. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Jackman, M. 1994. The Velvet Glove: Paternalism and Conflict in Gender, Class, and Race Relations. Vol.1. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Milkie, M.A., S.M. Kendig, K.M. Nomaguchi, and K.E. Denny. 2010. “Time With Children, Children’s Well-Being, and Work-Family Balance Among Employed Parents.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:1329-1343.

Schoppe-Sullivan, S.J., G.L. Brown, E.A. Cannon, S.C. Mangelsdorf, and M.S. Sokolowski. 2008. “Maternal Gatekeeping, Coparenting Quality, and Fathering Behavior in Families With Infants.” Journal of Family Psychology 22:389.

Liana C. Sayer is a professor of sociology and the director of the Maryland Time Use Lab at the University of Maryland.

Horia Varlan, Flickr CC.
Horia Varlan, Flickr CC.

Does marriage lead women to take on a larger share of housework? In the 1950s and 1960s, marriage was clearly unfair to women. The social and legal definition of marriage made it a woman’s duty, but not a man’s, to provide services in and around the home. Husbands had the final say over many family matters, such as where a couple would live and how the finances were managed. Married women were expected to take care of the meals and housework without any assistance from their husbands, whether they worked outside the home or not.

Values have changed since then, but some scholars argue that marriage still carries powerful role expectations that differ by gender and that lead women to start doing more housework and men to start doing less. Since the 1990s, several studies have compared the behavior of couples who are married and couples who live together. They find that unmarried cohabiting couples split the housework and paid work more equally than married couples, where wives tend to do a larger share of unpaid housework and husbands to do more paid work. Some have concluded from this comparison that there is something about marriage roles, and the expectations surrounding those, that causes couples to become more traditional after marriage.

But these studies were not comparing the same types of couples before and after marriage. They were comparing all cohabitors, even ones that didn’t intend to ever get married, with all married couples, even those that did not cohabit before marriage.

This comparison skews the results in several ways. On average, couples who do not live together before marriage have more traditional views about gender and sexuality than those who openly cohabit before marriage. When we compare such directly-married couples to married couples that cohabited before getting wed, we find that the former are much more likely to have the woman do more of the housework and the man take on more of the paid work. But this is not necessarily a change of behavior or values in response to getting married. It probably reflects a pre-existing inclination.

It would be ideal if we could actually study the division of labor between cohabiting couples before and after marriage. But there are no nationally representative studies that collected this information for young adults after the 1980s / early 1990s, when many fewer couples cohabited before marriage, and marriage may have been invested with different expectations. So the closest we can come to assessing the impact of marriage on couples’ behavior for more recent generations is to compare married couples who lived together before marriage with couples who are currently living together and think it likely that they will wed.

Unfortunately most surveys don’t ask married couples if they lived together before marriage or cohabiting couples if they think they will marry their partner—and the few that do ask these questions don’t also ask about housework hours. The one exception is the National Survey of Families and Households, which was collected in the United States between 1987 and 2003. I used this survey to identify cohabiting couples who thought there was at least a 50-50 chance that they would marry their partner and to compare their division of labor with that of married couples who lived together before marriage. I examined the housework habits of more than 900 such couples aged 18-35 in 2001-2003. Recently I did a follow-up study to investigate what happens to the division of labor in such couples when they have children, and added a comparison to more than 2000 couples of the same ages who were interviewed in 1987 and 1988.

Contrary to the claim that marriage reduces men’s housework and increases women’s, in neither generation were there any differences in the total time spent on housework between cohabitors who thought they would marry and husbands and wives who had lived together before marriage. This suggests that getting married does not spur women or men to do any more (or less) housework compared to when they were living together before marriage.

I did find some evidence of a conservatizing or traditionalizing effect of marriage in the 1987-8 generation. In that era, married men who had lived together before marriage did a different type of housework than their cohabiting counterparts who were intending to marry. They spent less time preparing meals and washing dishes and more time on “manly” jobs, such as mowing the lawn. These patterns persisted even after accounting for differences between married and cohabiting couples in education, race, age, and previous marital status. It is likely, then, that something about entering marriage triggered a change in their behavior. In the case of yardwork, this change may be partly explained by the fact that married couples are more likely to buy a home (and therefore more likely to have a yard to do work in). But that does not explain why men also reduced their time spent on preparing meals and washing dishes, and it is very plausible that this reduction reflected heightened adherence to normative expectations about the roles of men and women in marriage.

By 2001-3, however, men who had lived together before marriage and men who were living together without marriage and thought they would marry their partner were doing the same amount and the same type of housework. This suggests that marriage had ceased to have any effect in making men feel that they ought to play more traditional roles, or can opt out of less traditional ones.

In neither generation was there a difference, controlling for the presence of children, in the amount of housework that women did as live-in partners, or the amount they did as wives who had cohabited before marriage. But there was a huge difference between the two generations in the proportion of housework that women and men did. Both types of couples became increasingly egalitarian over the period. By the early 2000s, women in childless couples were only spending one and a half more hours per week on housework than men, compared to ten and a half more hours in the late 1980s.

However, the story doesn’t end there—and it does take a turn toward inequity over the course of these couples’ lives. In both 1987-8 and 2001-3, my new study shows, couples became more traditional, and women took on more of the housework burden, with each child that was born.

Again though, despite continuing discrepancies in the proportion of men’s and women’s housework, we do see a move toward more equality in the most recent generation. In 1988, women with one child did 16 hours more hours of housework per week than men, women with 2 children did 23.3 more hours, and women with 3 or more children spent 30 more hours a week than men.

In 2001-3, by contrast, women with three or more children did 20.2 more hours of housework than men each week (down from 30 in 1988), and women with 2 children did 17.6 more hours (down from 23.3). By 2002, women with 1 child did just 10 more hours of housework per week compared to men—a smaller housework gender gap than was found among childless couples in 1988.

So does marriage “make couples more traditional”? It did to some extent for men in 1988, but not by 2002, and in neither time period did it change women’s housework. Although women did more housework than men in both eras, they did not change how much they did after marriage—once you take into account the fact that married women have more children. Having children is the turning point at which women begin to take on more of the unpaid housework. In both generations the imbalance between men and women became much more pronounced after the birth of a child, although by the early 2000s it was less pronounced than a generation earlier, in the late 1980s. Readers can decide for themselves if this is a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty situation.

Arielle Kuperberg is in the sociology department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She studies gender, family life, and social policy.

Online dating is starting to look a bit more like the idealized world of a Bennetton ad.
Online dating is starting to look a bit more like the idealized world of a Bennetton ad.

Despite growing approval of interracial dating, researchers have long documented the existence of a racial hierarchy within the dating world, with white women and men the most preferred partners, blacks the least preferred, and Asians and Hispanics in between. But where do the growing numbers of biracial and multiracial individuals fit into this hierarchy? Do they too get ranked by descending shades of lightness?

Between 2000 and 2010, the number of individuals who identified themselves to Census takers as being of two or more races increased by a third. These nine million individuals still represent less than three percent of the population. But studies predict that by the year 2050, nearly one in five Americans may claim a multiracial background. How will this affect dating and marriage patterns in the United States?

We recently completed a study of how multiracial daters fare in a mainstream online dating website. Using 2003-2010 data from one of the largest dating websites in the United States, we examined nearly 6.7 million initial messages sent between heterosexual women and men. Specifically, we looked into how often Asian-white, black-white, and Hispanic-white daters received a response to their messages compared to their monoracial counterparts.

The most surprising finding from our study is that some white-minority multiracial daters are, in fact, preferred over white daters. We call this the multiracial “dividend effect,” something that has never before been reported in the existing literature on dating and mate preferences. This finding suggests that the treatment of multiracial people may in certain circumstances be more complex than is commonly recognized in research on racial hierarchies.

We found that three multiracial groups received a “dividend effect.” Asian-white women were viewed more favorably than any other group of women by white and Asian men, beating out women of the same race or ethnic group. Asian-white and Hispanic-white men were also afforded “dividend” status by Asian and Hispanic women respectively. Asian and Hispanic women responded more frequently to the multiracial men than to either their coethnic men or to whites.​

Although white women did not prefer Asian-white men to white men, they did respond to this group as frequently as to white men. This is in practice a multiracial dividend, because white women responded to monoracial Asian men as infrequently as they did to blacks.

Much scholarly discussion of multiraciality in America has been dominated by the concept of the “one drop rule” that was long enforced in the Jim Crow South, meaning that white-minority multiracial people are treated as minorities. But our study finds no support for this dynamic in the online dating world.

That is not to say that the color line has been erased. For example, white men and women are still less likely to respond to an individual who identifies as part black and part white than they are to a fellow white. But the color line has certainly been blurred, with whites responding more favorably to such individuals than to blacks. And white women actually prefer black-white men to Asian and Hispanic men, a phenomenon that explicitly contradicts what the one-drop rule would predict.

When we look at the preferences of black daters, we find that both men and women are slightly more likely to respond to whites than to same-race daters. They are also more likely to respond to black-white daters than black daters who contact them. In earlier research we found that while black women are reluctant to send messages to out-group daters, they are extremely willing to respond to messages from daters of other racial groups. Taken together with our current findings, this former behavior is likely driven by an expectation of rejection by men of other racial backgrounds, not by an inherent preference for black men over other men.

There are several possible explanations for the multiraciality dividends we found, and they may represent different dynamics in each case. In some cases they seem to be closely linked to a continuing partiality for lightness or whiteness. In the case of the preference that white and Asian men show for white-Asian women, we may be seeing the influence of longstanding cultural representations of multiracial women as unique and sexually exotic. Likewise, Asian and Hispanic women may have been influenced by the media’s increasing portrayal of multiracial men as attractive, chic, and trendy.

Some research also suggests that Asian American women may perceive Asian men with a more recent immigration history to the United States as more patriarchal and gender conservative than white American men. Thus, Asian and Hispanic women may perceive multiraciality as a marker of Americanization or gender progressiveness. At the same time, multiracial co-ethnics may be more appealing than monoracial white men in the sense that they bring a shared cultural heritage and may be accorded greater acceptance by family members. 

These findings provide us with potential insight into the social meaning of multiraciality in the post-civil rights era United States and how demographic changes in racial identification operate at the level of everyday interactions. The growing multiracial population in the United States is likely to change not just the overall racial landscape but the most intimate arenas of personal life.


Curington, Celeste Vaughan, Ken-Hou Lin, and Jennifer Hickes Lundquist. Forthcoming. “Positioning Multiraciality in Cyberspace: Treatment of Multiracial Daters in an Online Dating Website.” American Sociological Review

Hochschild, Jennifer L., Vesla M. Weaver and Traci R. Burch. 2012. Creating a New Racial Order : How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Lee, Jennifer and Frank D. Bean. 2004. “America’s Changing Color Lines: Immigration, Race/Ethnicity, and Multiracial Identification.” Annual Review of Sociology 30:221–42.

Masuoka, Natalie. 2008. “Political Attitudes and Ideologies of Multiracial Americans: The Implications of Mixed Race in the United States.” Political Research Quarterly 61(2):253–67.

Nemoto, Kumiko. 2006. “Intimacy, Desire, and the Construction of Self in Relationships between Asian American Women and White American Men.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9(1):27–54.

Pyke, Karen D. and Denise L. Johnson. 2003. “Asian American Women and Racialized Femininities ‘Doing’ Gender across Cultural Worlds.” Gender & Society 17(1):33–53.

Spencer, Rainier. 2004. “Assessing Multiracial Identity Theory and Politics: The Challenge of Hypodescent.” Ethnicities 4(3):357–79.

Spencer, Rainier. 2011. Reproducing Race: The Paradox of Generation Mix. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Celeste Curington is a PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where Jennifer Lundquist is in the sociology department. Ken-Hou Lin is in the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Just dust it off? Photo by Derek Gavey, Flickr CC.
Just dust it off? Photo by Derek Gavey, Flickr CC.

If at first they don’t succeed, do most Americans “try, try again”?

Wedding season is here again, and for many couples that is literally true. In 2013, 40 percent of all marriages — four out of every ten — were remarriages for either the bride or groom. One in five were remarriages for boththe bride and groom (Lewis and Kreider 2015; Livingston 2014).

Among men and women in their early 40s, more than half of all marriages are remarriages.

And among divorced or widowed individuals under age 45 who are not yet married, more than half (56 percent) say they expect to marry again. Remarriage is not the only way that previously-married individuals establish new relationships. As of 2013, almost half (47 percent) of cohabiting adults were previously married.

Despite this enthusiasm for repartnering, remarriage rates have been falling. In 2013, of every 1,000 previously-married man and woman in the country, 28 got married. But this is down from 50 per 1,000 in 1990, a decline of 40 percent (Payne 2015). Men are either more eager or more able to find new spouses than women. The current remarriage rate is nearly twice as high for men as for women (40 per 1,000 for men and 21 per 1,000 for women) (Payne 2015). In 1995, 54 percent of women who divorced before age 45 had remarried within five years of divorce. A decade later that had declined to 38 percent (NCHS).

People are taking more time to remarry than in the past. Half of men and women who remarry after a divorce from a first marriage do so within about four years (Kreider and Ellis 2011). A decade earlier, half remarried in about three years (Kreider and Fields 2002).

Love, marriage, and then a baby carriage is no longer the only route to starting a family. Today, 38 percent of couples who marry for the first time already have a child under 18 living in the home, but this is even more common among remarried couples, where 46 percent of such couples already have a child in the home. And while the rate of remarriage has declined, it is still the case that the majority of remarriages involve children. Nearly 63 percent of women under age 45 in remarriages are living in a stepfamily (Stykes and Guzzo 2015), but it is far more common for men than for women to be resident stepparents. Among remarried women in a stepfamily, only nine percent are living with a stepchild, whereas 46 percent of remarried men in a stepfamily are living with a stepchild (Stykes and Guzzo 2015).

Thus, remarriages often mean the formation of complex families.

This can present rewards in terms of having two parents in the home and resources from two parents, but at the same time it poses challenges to children and parents as new family roles and responsibilities must be negotiated (Stewart 2007). Stepfamilies typically struggle with family ambiguity, and on average, children in stepfamilies do not fare as well as those raised in two biological parent families.

In the past, stepchildren have been found to be associated with lower remarriage stability and quality. However, one study found that while the presence of stepchildren in a home was associated with lower marital quality and higher conflict in 1980, by 2000 this pattern was reversed (Amato, Booth, Johnson and Rogers 2007). Thus, as stepfamilies have become more common it is possible that couples are better able to adjust to these complex family living arrangements.

Nevertheless, remarriages are less stable than first marriages, and here recent trends have not been positive: Remarriages have become even less stable over the past 20 years. Among women under age 45, just one in five first marriages ends in divorce within five years. But among women in the same age group, almost one in three remarriages (31 percent) ends in divorce within five years (2006-10). This is up from 23 percent ending in divorce in the first five years in 1995 (NCHS). Among men and women who divorced in 2012, the duration of first marriages was about 13 years and remarriages was about ten years (Spangler and Payne 2014).

Thus, although several studies have shown that the relationship quality reported by remarried and first married couples is similar (Bulanda and Brown 2007; Whitton et al. 2013), there is no question that remarriages are more fragile than first marriages. Remarried individuals with a weak commitment to marriage are the most likely to move toward divorce (Whitton et al. 2013). Remarried couples with lower incomes and/or less education also have higher risks of experiencing another divorce.

Still, relationship researcher Terri Orbuch notes that remarried couples who have a strong commitment to marriage, who make an active effort to nurture their relationship, and who communicate well with each other can have as stable and high quality relationships as couples in a first marriage (Orbuch 2012; Shafer et al. 2014; Whitton et al. 2013). And remarriages confer at least some of the same health benefits as first marriages (Noda et al, 2009). In an appendix to this report, “Remarriages and Stepfamilies Are Not Doomed to Fail,” CCF Graduate Research Scholar Braxton Jones summarizes new research and lists several books and articles that address how to improve the functioning of remarried couples and blended families.

For further information about remarriage, please check out the NCFMR “Remarriage” topic link.

Wendy Manning is the co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.


Tiring? Never! Photo by Harsha K R via Flickr CC.
Tiring? Never! Photo by Harsha K R via Flickr CC.

In a dramatic shift in attitudes from just 40 years ago, most modern couples want to share the duties and rewards of work and family equally. However, this is particularly difficult for new parents in the U.S. in light of limited governmental support and persistent traditional gender norms. The U.S. offers inadequate paid parental leave and few options for cutting hours at work, while the cost of quality infant child care is exceptionally high. Thus parenthood is especially challenging for U.S. couples—the majority of whom are dual-earners who strive to achieve a work/family balance.

We studied 182 different-sex couples who were expecting their first child. Most were professionals who were well-positioned to equally share housework, parenting, and paid work responsibilities due to their high levels of education and the fact that both partners were working full-time. During the last trimester of the woman’s pregnancy and at 9-months postpartum, we had these men and women keep time diaries, recording every activity they engaged in during a 24-hour workday and non-workday. We also surveyed them about their own attitudes and perceptions of their division of labor at the beginning of our study and again when their child was nine months old.

In our initial interviews, these couples told us that they believed in sharing household responsibilities equally—and our time diaries confirmed that in fact they successfully did so before the baby was born. On average, both women and men perceived they were doing about 60 hours of work, including paid work and housework, per week. The time-diary data we collected, which are more accurate than retrospective survey data on how people spend their time, supported their perceptions. Women and men reported about 15 hours of housework and between 42 and 45 hours of paid work per week. This means that before the babies were born, most couples had achieved a balanced division of labor.

When we surveyed these expectant couples about their future, most said they wanted to continue to equally share housework and childcare after their baby was born. More than 95 percent of both men and women agreed that “men should share with child care such as bathing, feeding, and dressing the child” and that “it is equally as important for a father to provide financial, physical, and emotional care to his children.”

We surveyed the couples again when their babies were 9 months old, asking them how much time they were now spending in paid work, housework, and child care. Both the men and the women reported that they were each performing 90 hours of work per week, including housework, childcare, and paid labor. That is, they both felt that parenthood increased their workload by about 30 hours a week. Men reported that they were doing 35 hours of housework, 15 hours of child care, and 41 hours of paid work per week. Women reported that they were doing 27 hours of housework, 28 hours of child care, and 35 hours of paid work per week.

This time, however, their perceptions did not match their reality. Using our detailed time diaries, we were able to construct a much more accurate account of their work weeks than they retrospectively estimated in the surveys, and the results were quite different than the parents reported to us. Women performed 15 ½ hours of physical child care per week, including physical child care (changing diapers, feeding the baby)—12 hours less than they thought they were performing. They also performed 6 hours of child engagement (playing and reading with the baby), but we did not survey them on their perceptions of the time spent engaging with their child. Women spent 42 hours doing paid work—six hours more than they thought they spent in their jobs—and 13.5 hours doing housework—14 hours less than what they thought they were doing.

Men did about 10 hours of physical child care—5 fewer hours than they thought they were doing. Men put in 46 hours of paid work—5 hours more than they thought they put in at work. Their estimates of housework diverged especially sharply from what they recorded in their time diaries. The time diaries revealed that on average the men did just 9 hours of housework—only one-fourth as much as they thought they were doing (men estimated that they performed 35 hours of housework).

In other words, on average, 9 months after the transition to parenthood, women added 22 hours of childcare (physical and engagement) to their work week while doing the same amount of housework and paid work as before. Men added 14 hours of childcare to their work week, but did 5 fewer hours of housework after the baby’s birth.

Before the baby was born, a man’s average work week (paid and unpaid hours combined) was three hours longer than his partner’s. But after the birth of their child, the man’s total workload averaged about 8 and half hours less per week than his partner’s. Women’s total weekly workload increased from 56 to 77 hours across the transition to parenthood, while men’s increased from 59 to 69 hours.

Thus, over the course of a year, our calculations indicate that parenthood increased women’s total workload by about 4 ½ weeks of 24-hour days, whereas parenthood increased men’s total workload by approximately 1 ½ weeks—a 3-week per year gender gap.

Parenting an infant is a time-consuming activity that changes the rhythm of daily life. But it is especially fascinating that new parents, and particularly men, perceive the work of parenthood to be even more time-consuming than it actually is. Parenthood does result in increased work, but men and women are not actually working 30 hours more per week after their babies are born. Women come close—working 21 more hours per week after the birth of their first child. Men do much less than they—or their wives—perceive: parenthood only adds 13 hours of work for men.

It is possible that fathers will become more involved in physical childcare and engagement as the babies grow into running and talking toddlers. But we would argue that men and women should openly confront the workload inequities that develop in their child’s first nine months because renegotiating the division of labor once routines are established is really difficult.

Furthermore, if these inequities are not addressed early, some women may feel compelled to leave or reduce their hours in the labor force, diminishing their own career opportunities as well as the family’s ability to save for college and retirement. In turn, women’s “opting out” of paid work may result in men’s opting out of even more family work. Thus, children may miss out on the benefits of involved fathering for their social, emotional, and cognitive development.

New parents who desire equality over the long haul might be well-advised to address rather than deny the inequalities that develop in the early months of parenthood. Couples who recognize that the transition to parenthood is a “magic moment” and split family work evenly will enjoy the benefits—more satisfying relationships and more economic resources and security.

Jill Yavorsky is in the sociology program at The Ohio State University, where Claire Kamp Dush is a professor of human sciences and sociology and chair of the graduate program in human development and family science and Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan is a professor of human sciences and psychology and the director of the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy.

Evidence from Long-term Time-use Trends

In a period of “long-term stuttering social change,” the authors argue that men are making progress toward reducing structures of gender inequality.

As women entered the paid labor force in the 1970s and 1980s, time use studies found that wives began spending less time in housework, while husbands began increasing their time (Robinson 1979). But these changes certainly did not lead to parity, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, progress in gender equality at home and in the public sphere appeared to slow – or even stall.

We argue, however, that like most momentous historical trends, we shouldn’t expect progress towards gender equality to happen in an uninterrupted way. Just as we still see cold snaps within a process of longer-term climatic warming, the progress of gender equality should be seen as a long-term, uneven process, rather than as a single, all-at-once revolution.

When we take a broader and longer view of key trends in the gender division of labor, it is clear that despite periodic setbacks or slow-downs, there has been continuing convergence in the roles and attitudes of men and women. For this paper we studied such trends in 14 developed countries over a 50 year period, using a multinational archive of time-use diary data.

Long term changes in housework and care.

Researchers often look at the division of core housework as a measure of gender power in households. Across the 14 countries surveyed the time women spent in cleaning, cooking and laundry showed a striking downward trend over this extended period, with a less impressive, but nonetheless largely consistent, increase for men (shown in Figures 1a and 1b respectively). These graphs show that women’s hours of core housework stood at well over four hours a day (260 minutes and more) in most of those countries for which we have records from the 1960s – the USA being the exception at just under four hours (228 minutes). A rapid decline is then evident over subsequent decades to a level of below 2 ½ hours a day (150 minutes) in most countries by the first decade of the 21st Century. The exceptions for the later period are the southern and central European countries of Italy, Spain, Austria, Slovenia and Germany, where women’s core housework hours remained at levels of at least 175 minutes a day or more.

Men’s hours of core housework were more variable over time, but in all countries for which we have records men did less than an hour of core housework in the 1960s (with the strange exception of Slovenia, at 65 minutes!).  In contrast, by the 2000s, in almost all countries men did between an hour (the USA) and an hour-and-a-half (Norway) of core housework per day. Again, though, men in the southern European countries (Italy and Spain) did less.

These graphs also show 1) that there is still a substantial difference in the time that women and men spend on core housework (note that the vertical scales of the two graphs barely overlap), and 2) that from the 1990s onwards there has been some leveling off or decline in men’s contributions in certain countries. In particular, a decline is observable both in those countries where men already contribute a lot of time (Norway, Finland) and, more worryingly from a gender equality perspective, in some Anglophone countries where men’s contributions are not nearly so high (the USA, Australia). However, if we take the longer view, looking at the overall picture, there is little compelling evidence for a “stall” in the cross-national long-term trend towards greater equality in housework.

When we add other kinds of housework and care to the picture, we get a more complex picture still. Women have substantially decreased their time in housework. Men have increased their time in housework in comparison to the most of the past, but since the 1990s that increase has slowed or in some cases declined. However, men and women alike have increased their time in two other kinds of unpaid family activities.

One trend is a growth in the time spent in shopping, reflecting both an increase in the volume of consumption, as a result of the rising tide of affluence throughout the second half of the 20th century, and the replacement of local retail establishments by large self-service supermarkets, requiring extra travel time in private cars. For example, in the USA since the 1960s the average time men spend in shopping and domestic travel per day has risen from fewer than 50 to more 60 minutes. For women the increase was from 60 to 80 minutes per day.

The other is a growth in the time parents spend in childcare. This growth has been particularly striking for fathers: For example, the time that US fathers spent caring for children over the period from the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st century almost doubled for high-school-educated fathers and more than tripled for college-educated fathers (Sullivan, 2010).

When we combine all three activities (shopping, housework, and childcare) in our study, we see a clear-cut increase over the past half-century — in every single country included in the survey – in men’s daily time spent in unpaid family work and care. Women continue to shoulder a disproportionate load of the unpaid work, in part because they spend fewer hours in paid work than men. But even taking this into account, there has nevertheless been an obvious, cross-national increase in men’s contributions. This increase, together with the overall decrease in women’s core housework shown in Figure 1a, helps account for the steady and systematic decline in women’s relative share of the overall burden of unpaid work across time and across countries — shown in Figure 2. This graph shows that women’s share of unpaid work and care fell from levels between 75 to 80 percent in the 1960s to levels between 59 and (Sweden) and 67 percent (Australia) by the 2000s. (The exceptions are Italy and Spain, where women’s share of the overall unpaid work and care is still relatively higher, although it has declined over time to around the 75 percent level).

Fig 2: Women's Share (Proportion) of All Unpaid Work
Fig 2: Women’s Share (Proportion) of All Unpaid Work

In terms of broad distinctions in trends between countries in women’s share of the unpaid work and care burden, the North American countries (the USA and Canada) have performed slightly better than both the UK and continental European states such as the Netherlands, Germany and Slovenia, and much better than the southern European countries (Spain and Italy). Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland) have shown the most consistent trends in the direction of gender equity. In the first decade of the 21st century men from the Scandinavian countries were contributing between 38 percent (Finland, Norway) and more than 40 percent (Sweden) of all unpaid domestic work and care, compared to between 35 percent in the UK and Netherlands and 37 percent in the USA. In Spain, men still did less than 30 percent — and in Italy, just 25 percent.

Of course, on average men spend more time in paid work than women. When we turn our attention from the gender division of domestic labor to the overall gender division of labor – the total amount of all paid work, housework, and family care that men and women do – the result is quite striking. Women’s share of all work clusters closely around the 50 percent mark, representing equal work-loads (Figure 3). Throughout the period shown on the graph, women in Finland, France, Slovenia, and, most notably, Italy did slightly less than half of total paid and unpaid work, while in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Australia, they did marginally more work than men.

Fig 3: Women's Overall Work Time as a Proportion of All Work
Fig 3: Women’s Overall Work Time as a Proportion of All Work

Conclusions and policy implications.

In any long-term process of social change we might expect to see some levelling, even reversals, in the general trend. But the combination of a historical trend in the direction of both public and domestic gender equality and the general increase in attitudinal support for greater equality seriously challenges the idea that progress towards gender equality has stalled. It suggests, rather, that we are still in the midst of a long term process of stuttering social change. In contrast to the idea of revolution, we argue for a different metaphor; a slow dripping of change, perhaps with consequences that are barely noticeable from year to year, but that in the end is persistent enough to lead to the dissolution of existing structures.

These changes are important. But we should not expect too much from them in a short period of time, and neither should we be complacent about the future. This is because despite widespread attitudinal support for ‘fairness’ in the gender division of labor, the quantitatively-equal-but-qualitatively-different composition of work time creates considerable unevenness in terms of men’s and women’s economic security and mobility.

The combination of post-childbirth biology, essentialist gender ideologies, masculinist workplace attitudes, and policy measures designed to enable women, rather than men, to combine employment with caring means that it is still generally the woman in a heterosexual couple who takes time out of the workforce, or goes part-time following the birth of child, whether or not that is her own preference. In the long run this pattern seriously disadvantages women’s opportunities for career advancement, earnings, advancement, and ultimately, pensions. If a man spends more time in paid work than his female partner, he also accumulates more human capital—i.e. more earning power in the long term. And if she stays at home to care for the children, while he works longer hours at his job, the earnings-capability gap widens. This helps to explain why, everywhere we look, we find roughly equal overall work times coupled with gender wage gaps.

Two possible institutional solutions that would promote greater gender equality in both paid and unpaid labor have been suggested. One is to substantially subsidize childcare provision, as in the Nordic model. The other, even more challenging, is to implement statutory reduction of working hours for both partners, in combination with polices supporting genuine work-family flexibility, which would permit couples to stagger their paid work in order to care for their children. This would enable a shorter duration of paid childcare, making it more affordable. It would also allow fathers to spend more time with their children – a desire that is already manifest in the increasing time fathers are spending on childcare and in the fact that their levels of work-family conflict are now higher than women’s, according to the Families and Work Institute, likely reflecting their frustration at not being able to spend more time with their families. A combination of both of these policies helps explain why the Nordic countries continue to perform better than the Anglophone in terms of gender equality, and why, according to the 2013 report of the World Economic Forum, they remain the best countries in which to be a woman.



Fisher, Kimberly, and Jonathan Gershuny (2013). Multinational Time Use Study User’s Guide and Documentation Release 6. Oxford, UK: Centre for Time Use Research, University of Oxford.

Kan, Man Yee, Jonathan Gershuny and Oriel Sullivan (2011). “Gender Convergence in Domestic Work: Discerning the Effects of Interactional and Institutional Barriers from Large-Scale Data.” Sociology 45/2: 234-251

Robinson, John (1979) “Toward a Post-Industrious Society.” Public Opinion August: 41-46.

Sullivan, Oriel (2006). Changing Gender Relations, Changing Families: Tracing the Pace of Change. New York: Rowman and Littlefield (Gender Lens Series), pp. 141

Sullivan, Oriel (2010). “Changing Differences by Educational Attainment in Fathers’ Domestic Labour and Child Care.” Sociology 44/4: 716–733

World Economic Forum (2013). The Global Gender Gap Report.

Oriel Sullivan is a professor of sociology of gender at the University of Oxford, where Jonathan Gershuny is a professor of economic sociology. John Robinson is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Maryland.

The Census Bureau recently released new data, “A Child’s Day: Living Arrangements, Nativity, and Family Transitions: 2011 (Selected Indicators of Child Well-Being),” that explores how widespread are selected parental practices that affect child well-being and how such practices vary by family types. Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland offers a summary of the main findings and commentary on their implications.

Parenting practices matter. Children’s long-term emotional and cognitive health is greatly affected by the daily rituals and rules of family life. Especially beneficial are the following parenting practices: reading to children; eating breakfast or dinner together as a family at least 5 out of 7 days in a week; having clear rules regarding television viewing; and facilitating children’s participation in extracurricular activities. A recent census report studies the prevalence of such parental involvement across different family types, comparing children under 18 living with two parents, a single parent, or a guardian.

Although most children – 63 percent – live with two married parents, 37 percent do not. Five percent live with two unmarried parents, 27.5 percent with a single parent, and 4.5 percent live with a guardian, according to this report. It is worth noting, moreover, that despite the preponderance of children living with two married parents at any one time, more than half of American children will spend some part of their childhood living in a household that does not include two biological parents who are married to each other. [i]

American parents are doing well on most of the parenting indicators covered in this report. Overall, fewer than 10 percent of children under age 6 were never read to last week. About half of 6-17 year olds ate breakfast with their family at least 5 days per week. Nine out of 10 parents of children under 12 had rules about television viewing. And one-fifth to two-fifths of all children participated in sports as an extracurricular activity.

Reading to (and talking with) children is an important way to make sure that children’s verbal skills develop appropriately and that they are ready for school. Focusing on the years immediately prior to school entry, the report shows that 54 percent of 3-5 year-old children living with married parents and a full half of 3-5 year-old children living with two unmarried parents were read to 7 days per week. Among children living with a single parent, that figure fell to 41 percent. But single parents reported reading to children aged 3-5 an average of 6 times a week, not dramatically less than the 6.8 times reported by married parents. (Another study has found that single mothers spend nearly an hour more time per day on solo child care than married mothers, despite working more hours outside the home. But that typically still does not produce enough total time to make up for the absence of a second care-giver or story-reader.[ii])

Pediatricians consistently recommend that parents monitor their children’s television viewing, including types of programs, hours watched, and total viewing time. Of children aged 6-11 living with two married parents, 93 percent have at least one such rule and 76 percent have all three types of rules, compared with 90 percent and 70 percent respectively of children living with a single parent.

Being placed in an advanced class in elementary school can enhance a child’s success in high school. Almost 13 percent of 6-11 year old children of married parents were enrolled in gifted classes, compared with 10.5 percent of children living with a single parent. Again the differences, though significant, are small.

Eating meals together allows kids and parents to talk about big issues and mundane things, like what the kids are working on in school. Phtoo by Katia Strieck via Flickr CC.
Eating meals together has nutritional benefits and gives kids space to share the events of their days with caring adults. Phtoo by Katia Strieck via Flickr CC.

Being held back in school can be a big disadvantage. Almost twice as many children living with one parent had ever repeated a grade as children living with two married parents. But the overall risk of this was low, with just 5.3 percent of 6-11 year-old children in a single-parent family ever repeating a grade, compared with 2.7 percent of children living with married parents.

Having routine mealtimes with the family has nutritional benefits and provides children an opportunity to share the events of the day with caring adults. Here we see little difference by family type, but a small advantage for children of single parents. Eating breakfast together with children aged 6-17 was a widespread practice that varied little by family structure. Eating dinner together was common at an early age but became less common among older children. A slightly higher proportion (35 percent) of 12-17 year old children living with a single parent reported eating dinner with a parent at least 5 days a week than children living with two married parents (32 percent).

This seeming advantage for children of single parent families may be a result of lower participation in the extracurricular activities that have been shown to contribute to better grades in high school and increased college enrollment. There is a trade-off between family dinner times and children’s extracurricular activities, which often extend into the family dinner hour, leading families to eat dinner in shifts. Teenage children of married parents are more likely than children of single parents to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, lessons and clubs. For example, 44 percent of teenage children of married parents vs. 34 percent of teenage children of single parents participate in sports.

Children of cohabiting parents are more likely to be disadvantaged in both extracurricular activities and family dinners. Children living in two unmarried parent families had lower levels of participation in extracurricular activities (only 32 percent participated in sports, for example) and the lowest percentage of all groups who ate dinner with a parent. Just a quarter of these children (26 percent) ate family dinners 5 times a week or more. This is likely linked to the characteristics of unmarried cohabiting parents, who tend to be younger and less educated than single mothers.[iii] As a result, they are likely to be in occupations with less control over their work schedules.[iv]

The proportions of children eligible for free and reduced cost school lunch are one indicator of children living in poverty. Photo by DC Central Kitchen via Flickr CC.
The proportions of children eligible for free and reduced cost school lunch are one indicator of children living in poverty. Photo by DC Central Kitchen via Flickr CC.

Poverty is our most striking problem. What is most striking about this report is the high proportion of American children who are financially disadvantaged. Overall, more than one-fifth (22 percent) of children of all ages, and more than a quarter (26 percent) of children under age six, lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. Not surprisingly, children living with single parents are the most likely to be living in poverty. Almost 41 percent of such children are poor. Yet two parents do not guarantee economic security: An astounding 37.3 percent of children of two parents who live together but are not married to each other are in poverty, and almost 30 percent of children living with a guardian are poor. The poverty rate of children in married-couple families is much lower – 14 percent – but in terms of absolute numbers there are more married than unmarried parents living below the poverty line.

It should be noted that the poverty rate for children in the U.S. is the highest in the developed nations. In 2000, child poverty rates in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden averaged 3 to 4 percent, Western European nations averaged 9 percent, and the UK averaged 15 percent. The U.S. had the highest child poverty rates, with 22 percent of children living in poverty.[v] This is not because of a higher proportion of children living with single parents in the U.S. but because the combination of tax and transfer policies do not lift low income earners and their families out of poverty as much as do other countries.

It is also important not to assume that getting single parents to marry would make these high poverty rates disappear. In many cases, parents do not marry because they are poor, rather than becoming poor because they are not married.[vi]

Given such large financial differences, it does not seem fair to compare the fraction of these different family types who engage in positive activities with children without adjusting for differences in their financial well-being. In earlier work, I have shown that many differences in outcomes between children in different family types disappear when the economic and demographic characteristics of the fathers and mothers (such as young age or low income) are taken into account.[vii]

Low-income kids are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Photo by Edward N. Johnson/U.S. Army.
Low-income kids are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Photo by Edward N. Johnson/U.S. Army.

The census report makes a major contribution by documenting differences in children’s involvement in extracurricular activities by the income of the household. Within each specified activity and across all family types, children whose family poverty sta­tus was 200 percent of poverty or higher had greater activity partici­pation levels than children living below poverty or those whose pov­erty status was 100 to 199 percent of poverty. For example, the extracurricular participation in sports of children in families at 200 percent or more of the poverty level is 42.5 percent, while the participation of those in poverty is 22.5 percent, a difference of 20 percentage points. The difference between children of two married parents and children with a single parent was only 10 percentage points (44 percent vs. 34 percent). Although having another parent in the household is important, having the resources to participate may be even more important.

In spite of living in what are difficult economic circumstances, the differences in these parenting behaviors between single parents, cohabiting unmarried parents, and married parents are comparatively small. If anything, the report documents the serious attention to parenting made by parents who are caring for children in difficult circumstances and highlights the importance of continuing to focus on improving economic and employment opportunities for parents and for guardians of young children. This is an especially urgent challenge for policy-makers today, because a report issued just this month shows that for the first time, a majority of public school children come from low-income families.[viii]


Laura Tach & Kathryn Edin (2013). The Compositional and Institutional Sources of Union Dissolution for Married

and Unmarried Parents in the United States, Demography 50, 1789-1818..

[ii] Ariel Kalil, Rebecca Ryan, and Eise Chor (2014). “Time Investments in Children Across Family Structures,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 654 (1) (2014): 150–168.

[iii] Hofferth, Sandra L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection. Demography 43(1), 53-77

[iv] Toby Parcel & Charles Mueller (1983). Occupational differentiation, prestige, and socioeconomic status. Work and Occupations 1:49-80.

[v] Smeeding, Timothy (2008). Poorer by Comparison: Poverty, work and public policy in comparative perspective.

[vi] understanding low- income unmarried couples with children…/2008_Briefing_England_Unmarried- couples-with-children.pdf

[vii] Hofferth, Sandra L. (2006). Residential father family type and child well-being: Investment versus selection. Demography 43(1), 53-77.


Sandra Hofferth is a professor of family science and director of the maternal and child health program at the University of Maryland.

Photo Torbakhopper HE DEAD via flickr CC
Photo Torba K. Hopper via flickr CC

This short essay was part of a CCF series in February 2013 in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

Today, a male manager who selected only young, beautiful women employees would be seen as a Neanderthal. But in the personal sphere, when a 50 year-old single man dates only much younger women, and chooses one to marry, few of his friends question his sense of entitlement to a younger woman.

Unlike “the feminine mystique,” which Friedan described as a set of internalized stereotypes that led women to make “mistaken” choices in their personal lives, the youth mystique comes largely from the choices of men, and few Americans fault them for exercising their preferences. Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock and I examined marriage licenses taken out between 1970 and 1988. We found that the older a man is when he marries, the more likely he is to choose a woman much younger than himself.

Men under 30 typically marry women less than 2 years their junior. But men who marry in their 30s tend to marry women 4 years younger. Men in men their 40s typically choose a bride who is 6 years younger, and men over 60 marry women who are on average 8 years younger. It appears that the older men are when choosing a partner, the less attractive women their own age look compared to a youthful ideal, and the more they want a wife younger than themselves.

This makes it difficult for older women to find mates. Largely as a result of this pattern, we calculated that the number of single men available for every 100 single women goes down by age: 85 for 36 to 45, 70 for those 46-55, and less than 60 for those 56 to 65 years of age. No wonder women feel a need to spend so much energy trying to make themselves look younger!

Despite the media hype about “cougars” – older women stalking younger men — we found no parallel pattern for women. They marry partners within a few years of their age no matter how old they are when they marry.

Just as today we question ageism in employment decisions, maybe we should question youth-biased standards in our private lives—especially when only men are seen as entitled to a younger partner. In the long run, moreover, men as well as women may be ill-served by the youth mystique.

This is because the youth mystique also affects divorce, only it does so in a more gender neutral way. In research I am currently doing with sociologists Paul Allison and Liana Sayer, we use a national survey that asked ex-spouses which one wanted the breakup more. Men were most likely to initiate a divorce when their wives were at least three years their senior. But the same held for women—they too were most likely to leave a partner more then three years older than themselves. In fact, for both men and women, the more their spouse’s age exceeded theirs, the likelier they were to initiate a divorce.

The younger partner tends to leave the older, regardless of gender. So just as Friedan argued for women about the feminine mystique, the youth mystique may be leading men to make mistaken choices that will leave them less happy in the long run.

Paula England is in the sociology department at New York University and is the president of the American Sociological Association.