What drives the rise of stay at home fathers?

At Pew Social Trends, Gretchen Livingston has a new report on fathers staying at home with their kids. They define stay at home fathers as any father ages 18-69 living with his children who did not work for pay in the previous year (regardless of marital status or the employment status of others in the household). That produces this trend:


At least for the 1990s and early-2000s recessions, the figure very nicely shows spikes upward of stay-at-home dads during recessions, followed by declines that don’t wipe out the whole gain — we don’t know what will happen in the current decline as men’s employment rates rise.

In Pew’s numbers 21% of the stay at home fathers report their reason for being out of the labor force was caring for their home and family; 23% couldn’t find work, 35% couldn’t work because of health problems, and 22% were in school or retired.

It is reasonable to call a father staying at home with his kids a stay at home father, regardless of his reason. We never needed stay at home mothers to pass some motive-based criteria before we defined them as staying at home. And yet there is a tendency (not evidenced in this report) to read into this a bigger change in gender dynamics than there is. The Census Bureau has for years calculated a much more rigid definition that only applied to married parents of kids under 15: those out of the labor force all year, whose spouse was in the labor force all year, and who specified their reason as taking care of home and family. You can think of this as the hardcore stay at home parents, the ones who do it long term, and have a carework motivation for doing it. When you do it that way, stay at home mothers outnumber stay at home fathers 100-to-1.

I updated a figure from an earlier post for Bryce Covert at Think Progress, who wrote a nice piece with a lot of links on the gender division of labor. This shows the percentage of all married-couple families with kids under 15 who have one of the hard core stay at home parents:


That is a real upward trend for stay at home fathers, but that pattern remains very rare.

(The Census spreadsheet is here)

Time with young children

On weekdays, women in households with young children spend twice as much time caring for the children as men do. On weekends the ratio is only 1.5-to-1. Details on the chart, which has grid-lines at 6-minute intervals (click to enlarge):


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are averages per day calculated from time diaries recording the “primary activity” at each point in the day. Note that this does not do anything with marital status or household composition, so a lot more of these women are single mothers. That’s not a flaw in the presentation, though. Part of having a lot of single mothers means they spend more time with children, as these data show.

Gender equality: Family egalitarianism follows workplace opportunity

The Council on Contemporary Families has assembled an online symposium for the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.

The full release with a list of contributions is here. Here is my essay:

Gender equality: Family egalitarianism follows workplace opportunity

Unsticking progress toward gender equality in the labor market – extending the legacy of the Equal Pay Act – will help move families forward toward more.

Gender inequality within families is reciprocally related to gender inequality in the paid workplace. That is why one of the legacies of the Equal Pay Act, which brought scrutiny and sanctions to bear on gender discrimination at work, has been growing egalitarianism within families as well. Research consistently shows the effect of workplace progress on equality within couples. Most recently,analysis of the American Time-Use Survey confirms that women’s own earnings are associated with the amount of housework they perform. Each thousand dollars of earnings is associated with a 14-minute reduction in daily housework.

In 1962 fewer than one-in-seven nonfarm managers were women, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Women earned less than 10 percent of degrees in law and medicine, and full-time employed women earned just 59 percent of what men made. Not surprisingly, at that time just 7 percent of wives ages 25-54 earned more than their husbands – and wives did almost six-times as much housework as husbands. Their constrained workplace opportunity weakened their relative standing at home.

Today women hold about 40 percent of managerial jobs, receive almost half of law and medicine degrees (and the majority of BAs), and earn more than 75 percent of men’s earnings. Wives outearn their husbands in 28 percent of couples – a historic high. These gains have led to an impressive reduction in the disparity between husbands; and wives’ housework. Today wives only do 1.7-times as much housework as their husbands. Inequality at home and the workplace remain formidable, but labor market progress has made possible large steps toward parity within families.

Most of this progress, however, took place in the 1970s and 1980s. The stall in both arenas since then is unequivocal, as I describe in a forthcoming Boston University Law Review article. As progress toward equal labor force participation and access to occupations and equal pay slowed, the division of labor within families got stuck as well. The ratio of wives’ housework to men’s housework, which fell below 2.0 in the early 1990s, hasn’t moved appreciably since (see figure).


Both workplaces and families are sites in which cultural expectations and attitudes play out. However, the paid workplace is more amenable to policy intervention, while families tend to be more tradition-bound. Unsticking progress toward gender equality in the labor market – extending the legacy of the Equal Pay Act – will help move families forward toward more egalitarian relationships.

Gender and family time: change and stall visualized

The Pew Research Center put out a report this month titled, “Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family.” It analyzes trends in time use among men and women in families, showing the big changes since the 1960s, and adds Pew’s own survey data on attitudes and perceptions. Lots of interesting information.

But what jumped out at me was that the stall in progress did not feature much in Pew’s narrative, written by Kim Parker and Wendy Wang. I really noticed that when the Joy Cardin show featured the report on Wisconsin Public Radio, and Cardin’s intro was this:

Family gender roles are converging, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. Father’s have more than doubled the time they spend on housework. More moms are paid to work outside the home. (The audio is here.)

Those facts are true, but old news – older than the new news, which is that nothing much has happened since the early 1990s. Here are the trends, in Pew’s nice graphics. See if you can find the stall point in each figure.


The last one, parents’ child care time, is the only one that shows continued real progress, albeit slower, in the last decade.

I favor three explanations for this gender stall:

  • Work-family policy, as described by Stephanie Coontz here.
  • Cultural trends toward “egalitarian essentialism,” which “blends aspects of feminist equality and traditional motherhood roles” (e.g., intensive parenting mania), as described by David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman here.
  • Weaker government enforcement of anti-discrimination law, as described in the new book Documenting Desegregation, by Don Tomaskovic-Devey and Kevin Stainback.

These explanations do not exclude others.

Grad Seminar: Gender, Work, and Family Syllabus

Here is the reading list for my new seminar, Gender, Work and Family. It’s a required course for grad students at U. Maryland who plan to take the comprehensive exam in GWF. The full syllabus, with assignments, etc., is here. I go back and forth on a handful of issues: breadth versus depth, country case studies versus comparative studies, books versus articles, and including my own research. I’m open to suggestions, and feel free to add your recommendations in the comments.

Anyway, feel free to use it for whatever you like. The links here will mostly hit pay walls unless you’re authenticated with a subscribing university.

January 31 – Research overviews

  • Bianchi, Suzanne M. and Melissa A. Milkie. 2010. “Work and Family Research in the First Decade of the 21st Century.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:705-725. Link
  • Ferree, Myra Marx. 2010. “Filling the Glass: Gender Perspectives on Families.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:420-439. Link

February 7 – Stalled progress toward equality

  • Cotter, David, Joan M. Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman. 2011. “The End of the Gender Revolution? Gender Role Attitudes from 1977 to 2008.” American Journal of Sociology 117(1):pp. 259-289. Link
  • England, Paula. 2010. “The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled.” Gender & Society 24(2):149-166. Link
  • Pettit, Becky and Stephanie Ewert. 2009. “Employment Gains and Wage Declines: The Erosion of Black Women’s Relative Wages since 1980.” Demography 46(3):pp. 469-492. Link

February 14 – The persistence of gender inequality

  • Ridgeway: Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World.

February 21 – Work-family

  • Williams: Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter.

February 28 – Studying work-family decisions

  • Cha, YJ. 2010. “Reinforcing Separate Spheres: The Effect of Spousal Overwork on Men’s and Women’s Employment in Dual-Earner Households.” American Sociological Review, 75 (2): 303-329. Link
  • Percheski, Christine. 2008. “Opting out? Cohort differences in professional women’s employment rates from 1960 to 2005.” American Sociological Review, 73 (3): 497-517. Link
  • Read, Jen’nan G. and Sharon Oselin. 2008. “Gender and the education-employment paradox in ethnic and religious contexts: The case of Arab Americans.” American Sociological Review 73 (2): 296-313. Link
  • Read, Jen’nan Ghazal and Philip N. Cohen. 2007. “One Size Fits All? Explaining U.S.-born and Immigrant Women’s Employment across Twelve Ethnic Groups.” Social Forces 85(4):1713-34. Link

March 6 – Race, class and intersectionality

  • Furstenberg, Frank F. 2007. “The making of the black family: Race and class in qualitative studies in the twentieth century.” Annual Review of Sociology 33:429-448. Link
  • Harknett, Kristen and Arielle Kuperberg. 2011. “Education, Labor Markets and the Retreat from Marriage.” Social Forces 90(1):41-63. Link
  • Choo, Hae Y. and Myra M. Ferree. 2010. “Practicing Intersectionality in Sociological Research: A Critical Analysis of Inclusions, Interactions, and Institutions in the Study of Inequalities.” Sociological Theory 28(2):129-149. Link

March 13 – Economics and feminism

  • Hartmann, Heidi I. 1981. “The Family as the Locus of Gender, Class, and Political Struggle: The Example of Housework.” Signs 6(3):pp. 366-394. Link
  • Nelson, Julie A. “Feminism and Economics.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 9(2):131-148. Link
  • Folbre, Nancy and Julie A. Nelson. “For Love or Money – Or Both?” Journal of Economic Perspectives , Vol. 14, No. 4 (Autumn, 2000), pp. 123-140. Link


March 27 – Housework studies

  • West, Candace and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender & Society 1(2):125-151. Link
  • Sayer, Liana C. 2005. “Gender, time and inequality: Trends in women’s and men’s paid work, unpaid work and free time.” Social Forces 84(1):285-303. Link
  • Sayer, Liana C. and Leigh Fine. 2011. “Racial-Ethnic Differences in U.S. Married Women’s and Men’s Housework.” Social Indicators Research 101(2):259-265. Link
  • Gupta, Sanjiv. 2007. “Autonomy, Dependence, or Display? The Relationship Between Married Women’s Earnings and Housework.” Journal of Marriage and Family 69(2):399-417. Link

April 3 – The gender pay gap

  • O’Neill J. 2003. “The Gender Gap in Wages, circa 2000.” American Economic Review 93(2)309-314. Link
  • Budig, Michelle and Melissa Hodges. 2010. “Differences in Disadvantage: Variation in the Motherhood Penalty across White Women’s Earnings Distribution.” American Sociological Review 75(5): 705-728. Link
  • Cohen, Philip N. and Matt L. Huffman. 2003. “Individuals, Jobs, and Labor Markets: The Devaluation of Women’s Work.” American Sociological Review 68(3):443-63. Link
  • Blau, Francine D. and Lawrence M. Kahn. 2007. “The gender pay gap: Have women gone as far as they can?” Academy of Management Perspectives 21(1):7-23.

April 10 – Occupational segregation

  • Cartwright, Bliss, PR Edwards, and Q Wang. 2011. “Job and industry gender segregation: NAICS categories and EEO-1 job groups.” Monthly Labor Review 134(11):37-50. Link
  • Charles, Maria and Karen Bradley. 2002. “Equal but Separate? A Cross-National Study of Sex Segregation in Higher Education.” American Sociological Review 67(4):573-599. Link
  • Matt L. Huffman, Philip N. Cohen and Jessica Pearlman. 2010. “Engendering Change: Organizational Dynamics and Workplace Gender Segregation, 1975-2005.” Administrative Science Quarterly 55(2):255-277. Link

April 17 – Gender, family and women’s empowerment in Asia

  • Desai, Sonalde and Lester Andrist. 2010. “Gender Scripts and Age at Marriage in India.” Demography 47(3):667-687. Link
  • Rammohan, Anu and Meliyanni Johar. 2009. “The Determinants of Married Women’s Autonomy in Indonesia.” Feminist Economics 15(4):31-55. Link
  • Cohen, Philip N. and Wang Feng. 2009. “The Market and Gender Pay Equity: Have Chinese Reforms Narrowed the Gap?” Pp. 37-53 in Creating Wealth and Poverty in Post-Socialist China, Deborah S. Davis and Wang Feng (eds.). Palo Alto: Stanford University Press. Link

April 24 – Masculinity and fathering

  • Connell R.W. and J.W. Messerschmidt JW. 2005. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender & Society 19(6):829-859. Link
  • Parrenas, Rhacel S. 2008. “Transnational fathering: Gendered conflicts, distant disciplining and emotional gaps.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 34(7):1057-1072. Link
  • Milkie, Melissa A., Kendig, SM, Nomaguchi, KM and Denny, KE. “Time with Children, Children’s Well-Being, and Work-Family Balance among Employed Parents.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72(5):1329-1343. Link

May 1 – Generational change in work-family perspectives

  • Gerson: The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family.

May 8 – State policy

  • Esping-Andersen: The Incomplete Revolution: Adapting to Women’s New Roles. Polity.

When there’s housework to do…

According to the flyer in yesterday’s mail, “Life’s too short to clean your own home.”

Naturally, for the people who work for The Cleaning Authority, life is not to short to clean someone else’s home – and love it, as this woman on the inside flap apparently does:

Maybe she’s happy because she has a job she likes — even though she would be miserable cleaning her own home — like in the 1970s feminist version:

Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.
Your mommy hates housework,
Your daddy hates housework,
I hate housework too.
And when you grow up, so will you.
Because even if the soap or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach
That you use is the very best one,
Housework is just no fun.

Children, when you have a house of your own,
Make sure, when there’s house work to do,
That you don’t have to do it alone.
Little boys, little girls, when you’re big husbands and wives,
If you want all the days of your lives
To seem sunny as summer weather,
Make sure, when there’s housework to do,
That you do it together!

The sociological truth is that it is different to clean someone else’s home. Today’s corporate cleaners are different from an informal cleaning relationship. I once tried to imagine that “keeping house” should be considered a real occupation — which would help reveal the overall gender division of labor, not just the segregation of occupations or housework, which are almost always studied separately.

Corporatizing housework does change its social nature. It’s not the physical labor itself that makes it about gender, after all. That doesn’t mean it’s not unpleasant work. But cleaning the toilet of an anonymous person may be less degrading than cleaning the toilet of someone you have a personal (subordinate) relationship with. On the other hand, maybe people love cleaning toilets for people they really love.

The rationality of market dynamics ideally makes irrelevant the gender of workers in general. Men are more somewhat more likely to cook and clean for money than for free, for example. In that ideal, not real, marketized world, then, maybe there is no such thing as housework — just work and workers. Would that be better?


Maybe it would be better — a genderless world of labor and capital. But as Joan Acker wrote 21 years ago, and reiterated last year, the generic worker in the mind of employers is usually actually male —  in the sense that “he” has no family responsibilities; and if he does, “he’s” not a good worker, committed to the job, and the ones that get promoted are more often actual men.

That makes this ad from Groupon especially ironic (thanks to Ken Kolb for the tip):

How many “man-hours” does a woman at Designer Maid do in an hour?

If you follow the links to Designer Maid, it gets more interesting still. On the home page, the copy reads:

For many upwardly mobile and dual income families today, the home we’ve worked so hard to obtain is a time consuming chore to maintain. We give you more time to do those things you need to do or would rather be doing. So, instead of spending endless hours on mundane housework, Relax… We’ll take care of the rest! (emphasis added)

That’s rich, because on the Employment page — where there is the same picture of the smiling woman doing the backbreaking work — those “endless hours” of “mundane housework” become a fabulous professional opportunity:

Designer Maid is a great place to work… Designer Maid provides all of the equipment and supplies you will need to fulfill your role as a professional house cleaner. In addition, we provide all of the training necessary for for you to achieve the distinction of Certified Professional House Cleaner.

So, just forget what we said about the endless hours of mundane work, and common down to apply!

Headed toward equality

Kudos to my co-author, Claudia Gest — now at the University of Utah and formerly a postdoctoral scholar here at UNC — for the publication of “Headed Toward Equality? Housework Change in Comparative Perspective,” in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

Together we analyzed the division of housework within couples in 13 rich countries, to see if countries that had more equality pulled ahead — or if those that were less equal closed the gap — over an 8-year period. Here’s the abstract:

This paper examines gendered housework in the larger context of comparative social change, asking specifically whether cross-national differences in domestic labor patterns converge over time. Our analysis of data from 13 countries (N = 11,065) from the 1994 and 2002 International Social Survey Program (ISSP) confirmed that social context matters in shaping couples’ division of labor at home, but also showed that context affects patterns of change. Our results suggested that, compared to the most egalitarian countries, the shift in housework patterns was greatest among the most traditional countries. This provides support for the thesis of cultural convergence, but the evidence did not suggest that such convergence will lead to complete equality in the foreseeable future.

Our conclusion that the direction of change was toward convergence is captured in this figure, which shows where a typical couple would be on the less-equal-to-more-equal continuum in 2002 (the y-axis), based on where their country was in 1994 (the x-axis). Because the model shows couples on the left side (less equal in 1994) rising more than those on the right (more equal in 1994), that’s what we call convergence, or catching up in the direction of equality:

Overall, women still do most of the housework — that scale runs from -6.0, where women do everything, to +6.0, where men do everything.

(The link above takes you to the abstract, but the paper is behind a pay wall. If you ask me personally for a copy — from the publications page — I would be happy to share one.)