Here's a piece I wrote for Ivillage on... women!
The word is in: the Opt-Out Revolution, if there ever was such a thing, can be officially declared over. Women now make up more than half the workforce -up from 33 percent in 1967.
So what was all that "mommy wars" arguing about whether women should stay home or work for pay? It's hard to believe it now, as our nation struggles with the most profound economic downturn in 30 years, but back at the oh-so-flush years at the dawn of the decade, well-educated and highly compensated women were reported to be trading the corner office for the minivan. Their defection from the workplace, according to a much-discussed 2003 story in the New York Times Magazine, was interpreted to be a sign that after 40 years of gains, women were becoming disillusioned with corporate America.
After much soul searching, high-power women lawyers and MBAs, the ones at the very top of the economic food chain, were supposedly "opting out" in favor of more traditional women's responsibilities like running a household and raising—or at least supervising the raising—of their children, which in turn triggered the publication of a spate of books praising women who chose full-time mommying or alternately chastising them as wasting their education and putting their family's economic future at risk.
It turns out the "Opt-Out Revolution" was a just tiny blip in the census data. According to a report out this week by the Center for American Progress and Maria Shriver, women aren't just working—a full 63 percent have become at least one of the economic pillars on which their family's survival rests, and 39 percent of working women say they are the primary breadwinners.
Overall, there were roughly two kinds of women who stayed home during the boom times: Women who couldn't afford to work because they didn't earn enough to cover child care, and a much smaller group of women who didn't need a paycheck and chose to stay home. (They're the ones who were writing all those books about the angst of their decision to give up their careers.)
But like an interest-only loan or a $4,000 outdoor grill, choosing to forego a second paycheck was something that made sense when it seemed like the good times could never end. Instead of being a harbinger of things to come for women, opting out, like the gas-guzzling Hummer, now looks like a by-product of an over- caffeinated stock market and a nation awash in easy cash. Money was plentiful—abandoning a career didn't seem as unwise as it does in this economic climate.
To be sure, there were some working-class and middle-class women who were leaving the workplace to raise children. But economists say that women tend to downshift—reduce their hours or take on fewer responsibilities—when they have pre-school-aged children rather than leaving their jobs entirely.
Most of the women who left the workforce and stayed out tended to be married women without a four-year college degree. Yes, those women might have embraced the joys of motherhood but let's be clear: many left the workforce because their weekly pay packet wasn't thick enough to cover regular day care, the emergency babysitter and put gas in the car. Those women weren't opting out so much as being squeezed out.
For the most part, the better educated women a woman is, the more likely she is to work. The ones with four-year degrees were not leaving the executive suites, cubicles, laboratories, factories and sales floors. It didn't make economic sense back in 2003—they made too much money—and they certainly can't afford to now.
As the Great Recession staggers on, the value of women's work becomes even clearer. As the unemployment rate has moved toward 10 percent and, in some states and in some communities, well beyond, a full 82 percent of the job losses have hit men, who are over-represented in industries like manufacturing, financial services and construction. Far from opting out, working women are holding on to their jobs with both hands. The reason is simple: Two income couples have more economic resilience. If Dad loses his job, Mom's paycheck can cover the mortgage—and maybe much more.
Meanwhile, while we were busy arguing over a revolution that wasn't taking place, an evolution of sorts has been changing the way American couples live. Back in 1980, 29 percent of wives reported that their husbands did no housework at all. By the 2002 publication of The Bitch in the House women had clearly had enough. The essays in the book underscored the basic unfairness of Modern Love and Marriage: that women still ended up doing most of the childrearing and housework. But these days, guys—especially the younger ones—are learning a lesson that their fathers' never figured out—how to pull their weight. Although they still do less than women (and most married women are happy to tell you exactly what thatfeels like) men have begun doing more childrearing and housework. The younger they are, the more they seem to get it.
In a recent survey conducted by the Family and Work Institute, 31 percent of women said that their spouses took equal or more responsibility for the care of their children. (In 1992, it was only 21 percent.) Among younger working parents (those under 29), dads spend even more time with their kids than their fathers or even their older brothers—4.2 hours on average. (Young working moms spend 5.1 hours with the kids.)
And the data is even more promising for college-aged guys. They seem to know that while a man's house is his castle, he's probably going to have to vacuum the Cheerios off the kitchen floor of that castle once in while. In a recent survey of 8,000 University of California graduate students in all fields, 74 percent of men (and 84 percent of women) said looking for a family-friendly work environment was a "serious concern."
And while it is certain men still think their wives can work, handle the housework and raise the children single-handedly, studies suggest those dinosaurs may soon be extinct. Men who do chores without a lot of bellyaching are the ones who are most likely to get—and keep—the girl. According to the Centre for Time Use Research at Oxford University, economists who study marriage and cohabiting rates say both men and women are more likely to want a live-in relationship with the opposite sex if they think their partner will do a share of the housework and childcare duties.
These days, as the Opt-Out Revolutionaries are growing smaller in the rear view mirror, the Flex Generation couples are broaching new kinds of negotiations with their workplaces and with each other. No one says it's equal. No one says it's perfect. But it's a change worth talking about.
Read more: http://love.ivillage.com/0,,g3nh2rnh-p,00.html#ixzz0UbsAwPTL