Keeping the mancession in perspective

Too early for women’s victory parade.

The news is promising:

The number of working moms who are the sole breadwinners in their families rose last year to an all-time high, and the number of stay-at-home dads edged higher, in a shift of traditional gender roles caused partly by massive job losses.

As Catherine Rampell has pointed out in greater detail, the new Census report by my friend Rose Kreider shows a change, but not a sea change, in the gender-and-family employment picture. The report is based on the March Current Population Survey, so we can compare March 2008 with the Great Recession March of 2009. Of particular interest is table FG1 from those reports, which provide this information:

The “mancession” idea isn’t crazy, since men have lost a lot more jobs than women – because of the industries hit hardest – but let’s keep it in perspective. Looking at the tables, you could say the number of married couples with children in which only the wife was employed increased by a whopping 37% in one year – from 1.4 million to 1.9 million. Yikes. But the graph shows how rare this condition remains: 7.4%. And the opposite condition – husband only employed, is four-times as common.

Employed men really do still outnumber employed women.  But we might want to start lowering expectations for the importance of that single number – which we may well reach someday – given men’s wage and occupational advantages and greater likelihood of working full time, while doing less housework and childcare. At least as important, the pattern of pairings – the commonness of more-employed men and less-employed women leading families with children – still skews way male.

As Kristin Smith puts it in the A.P. story:

“Women are really stepping in and helping families stay afloat. The question is whether men are stepping up and picking up the slack around home,” said Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the University of New Hampshire.

So Rosie can break for a sandwich, but if she’s aiming for a decisive victory it’s too early to rest on her laurels.

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