Wednesday, September 22, 2004

OK, OK ... it's time to turn the attention to a parenting magazine that believes in thoughtful, in-depth explorations of modern parenthood: Brain, Child, which ran a thoughtful, in-depth and disappointing look at at-home dads (sort of). (Thanks to Matt for the link. I am late to the party on the commentary. See this dead-on post from Half Changed World for additional insight.)

The article is a long one, and it asks an interesting question: where the hell are the men in all these stories about women and work-life balance being written by Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic and Lisa Belkin in the NYT Magazine, among others. It's a good question and one I've asked before. The author has all her facts right, and she talks to some of my favorite thinkers: Crittenden, Pruett, Baylies, Hilling.

Sadly, the conclusions are, by and large, wrong. The answer to "where the hell are the men," is "work," and the author, Stacey Evers, spends most of the article arguing that at-home fathers are a) extremely rare and b) likely to stay that way, barring a "seismic ground shift."

This post could go on a long, long time, so let me take brief aim at just three of Evers' myths:
1) At-home fathers are rare: The story goes into great detail about the Census numbers from last year that cut our numbers from around two million to 105,000, explaining that once you cut out all those dads who are part-time workers, shift workers or flextime guys, the number of at-home dads dwindles. (See here for my take on the numbers.) Of course, the number of dads working reduced or flexible schedules to be more involved is jumping, but Evers seems much more fascinated by the small and virtually meaningless 105,000 number. Her message: this group is too small to bother with.

2) Men make too much to stay home: Look, women continue to get the short end of the stick in the workforce. No question whatsoever on the wage gap issue, and Evers makes that completely clear. But in emphasizing that men on average are better wage earners, she forgets that few marriages conform to a national average. Here is a better stat: in dual-earner couples, 30 percent of women outearn their husbands. If Evers personal-finance argument was true, at-home dads would indeed be outnumbered by at-home moms ... by about two-to-one, not 56-to-1 (the current ratio). We have a long way to go toward income equality, but we're way closer to that than to caregiver equality. The two don't seem to be very closely linked.

3) Men are locked into the provider mindset: Again, a lot of men are indeed still slaves to the workplace, but the number of men looking for more flexibility for family reasons is jumping. Longtime at-home dads (Hilling, Baylies) will tell you that respect for what they do has grown in quantum leaps over a relatively short period of time. Evers gathers quotes from businessmen, lawyers and a CEO (for Pete's sake!) who claim at-home dads are stigmatized by their inability to provide, but the reality on the (play)ground is that those social stereotypes are fading. The story seems to be stuck in Mr. Mom land (1983).

There's a lot else not to like here, and HCW hits much of it in her post. It's too bad, really, given the time obviously spent on the article. And I know a lot of the people she spoke to -- I can't imagine Hogan and Peter sharing the story's pessimism.

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