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(This article originally appeared in my Jacksonville Business Journal column “The Careerist.”)
From 1960 to the early 1970s the entry of married women workers accounted for almost half of the increase in the total labor force. Now, women make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, and match the numbers of men in occupations requiring four-year degrees and serious career commitment. Much has changed since the women’s movement in the 1970s, but one factor remains the same: women still work two shifts. One paid one at the office, and the other unpaid, performing most of the household and childcare tasks at home.
In 1989, Arlie Hochschild’s book called The Second Shift explored what Hochschild called “the leisure gap” between working husbands and wives. A 1989 New York Times review of the book said Hochschild called the women’s movement “a ‘stalled revolution,’ one that got wives out of the home and into the first shift of paid employment but resulted in surprisingly meager change during the domestic second shift. … In most marriages, the woman’s paid work is still considered a mere job, in contrast to the man’s career. Thus the woman’s first shift – her employment – is likely to be devalued, thereby rationalizing her continuing responsibility for the second shift.”
It has been almost thirty years since The Second Shift was published, and not much has changed. For four years, a survey of work and life issues has been published by the Modern Family Index (MFI) series, commissioned by childcare provider Bright Horizons. In part because of the growing number of women as single heads of households, 40 percent of U.S. households now have a mom as the primary breadwinner. The poll consisted of 2,082 American workers with at least one child under the age of 18.
The 2017 numbers don’t look very different than you would have expected in 1970, when women were more likely to take part time jobs to earn extra pocket money. Workers reported that working women were primarily responsible for managing children’s schedules (76 percent of working women versus 22 percent of working men.) They were three times more likely to volunteer at school (63 percent compared to 19 percent.) Seventy-one percent of working women said they were responsible for making sure “all family responsibilities” were managed.
According to the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of families where women are the primary earners consist of mothers who earn more than her working spouse does, yet these women also do most of the household management. Many report feeling guilt when they fail to keep an impeccable house or fulfill all their soccer mom obligations. “If my mother-in-law drops by when the house is a mess, I’ll be the one she judges, not my husband” one working mother told me.
Pew research confirms that public opinion favors traditional family roles. About half (51 percent) of respondents to a 2013 survey said that children are better off if a mother is home and doesn’t hold a job, while just 8 percent said the same about a father.
The Modern Family Index findings report that 69 percent of working moms report stress related to their home responsibilities and 52 percent describe themselves as “burned out.” One bright spot in the research: 32 percent of men said they’d trade a 10 percent raise for more time with family. I can only hope they’d spend some of that time doing laundry.