Stay-at-Home Fathers Aren’t So Rare Anymore

The household stories in last week’s Bloomberg Businessweek are ordinary. Try not to nod off during the following quotation (in which I have made a few key changes):

Schneider and her husband, who met as undergraduates at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, decided before they wed that he’d have the big career and she’d be the primary parent. “It’s his name on the paycheck, and sure, we’ve thought about the precariousness of having just one breadwinner. But he wouldn’t earn what he does if I wasn’t doing what I do,” she says. Which is not to say that she doesn’t wonder “whether I can get back to a career when I want to and build on what I’ve done before.”

There’s a story you’ve read and heard a couple thousand times before. We could now discuss the societal forces that drive women to succeed so well in education and early career before setting it aside for “primary parenting,” or explore the topic of that return to career after years at home — but other than that, not much news there. Reverse the genders, though, and apparently you’ve still got a man bites dog story. Here is the real, unedited quotation:

Schneider and his wife, who met as undergraduates at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, decided before they wed that she’d have the big career and he’d be the primary parent. “It’s her name on the paycheck, and sure, we’ve thought about the precariousness of having just one breadwinner. But she wouldn’t earn what she does if I wasn’t doing what I do,” he says. Which is not to say that he doesn’t wonder “whether I can get back to a career when I want to and build on what I’ve done before.”

The article the quotation is taken from, headlined “Behind Every Great Woman,” offered the stories of women like Leslie Blodgett, founder of Bare Escentuals; Dawn Lepore, former chief executive of Drugstore.com; and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, whose husbands either ratcheted down or set aside their own goals when their wives’ careers took off, as inspiration for couples like Matt Schneider and his wife,  Priyanka, chief operating officer for a real estate startup. And it served as, yes, a starting point for another discussion of why, in the United States, it’s still (from an economic point of view) “one person doing 100 percent of work outside the home and the other doing 100 percent at home,” as Kathleen Christensen, who focuses on work and family issues as program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, described it.

We should take every opportunity to discuss the fact that the United States does very little, as a nation or a society, to make being a working parent (or a parent, for that matter) easier (and we have discussed it, here). Both the tax code and our limited social supports encourage a one-parent-at-work, one-at-home family structure that isn’t the way we live anymore: nearly 60 percent of married-couple households with children have two working parents. But that said, are those dog-biting men really such a story anymore? As Nancy Folbre noted on the Times’s Economix blog, in 2010, husbands were the sole earner in about 20 percent of all marriages, wives in about 9 percent.

That means that only a little more than twice as many families have a male breadwinner only as have a female breadwinner only. Ms. Blodgett, Ms. Lepore and their spouses may have been pioneers, but they were pioneers in a changing world. Their stories are more unusual than stories in which a woman makes those same familiar sacrifices, but not by much, and not, I think, for long.

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By KJ Dell'Antonia.

Source: New York Times - http://goo.gl/eu81m


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