Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Men *Are* Making Great Strides

One of the points I try to make again and again is that fathers today are fundamentally different than dads a decade or two ago. I can't tell you why the social norm of the involved father is suddenly on the rise, but all the signals -- dads at the park, dads at the grocery store on Tuesday mornings, dads involved in PTA, etc. -- are pointing in the right direction. It can be a hard argument, though -- demographic research can't keep pace with the reality on the group.

But it may be catching up. We got another piece of hard evidence for the trend in the work of demographer Suzanne M. Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. The Maryland folks have been looking at time diaries -- incredibly detailed tellings of daily life -- for a long time, and they've been able to break out who is doing what (and for how long) in the American household ... and they can compare that to the way it used to be. The New York Times has the details.

There is plenty in there for discussion. The Times looked at these data in April to ask questions about women in the workforce, and you can certainly find all kinds of other questions to ask (for instance, did men actually spend 13 percent *more* time at work forty years ago? and is adult leisure time a dying concept? and why isn't there an inverse relationship between working hours and kid hours?). But what fascinated me was a single stat: the hours per week of childcare ("childcare" is kind of a squishy term, but bear with me).

For women, the childcare number has remained pretty constant since 1965 and now stands at about 13 hours. But for men, there's a clear trend (from the Times chart):

1965: 3 hours of childcare/week
1975: 3 hours of childcare/week
1985: 3 hours of childcare/week
1995: 4 hours of childcare/week
2000: 7 hours of childcare/week (OK, the Times rounded this number. Should be 6.5 hours.)

If you believe these stats (and I'd love the seen the original), the amount of time the average guy spends with the kids is up 62 percent in a five years. Yes, there is probably some statistical fluctuations that should temper any reliance on these numbers. Yes, absolutely, we should be shooting for equality. But even if you knock 20 or 30 percentage points off to be on the safe side, it's still quite a hop. Change is afoot ...


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