Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Pew Got It Wrong

Last week, there was a mini-explosion in stories about the largely fictitious "mommy wars," pegged to a new report from the Pew Research Center. The findings, put bluntly, showed that over the past 10 years, mothers who work outside of the home became much more convinced that part-time work -- not the full-time grind -- was the ideal solution. (At-home moms became even more convinced that at-home motherhood is the goal to strive for.)

In the Pew data dump, dads were not entirely ignored, but there was clearly less interest in us. We found out, for instance, that 72 percent of dads see full-time work as the best option (though no comparison was given to 1997), with 16 percent saying not working would be ideal. We also learned that a full 21 percent of America apparently believes that dads staying home with the kids is a bad thing. (38 percent don't have an opinion either way, 36 percent see it as a good thing. That's pretty much the same as 1997. This is disturbing, and I really can't think of a rational explanation.)

That's about it when it comes to data. And that lack of data is unfortunate.

But what really ticks me off about the whole thing is that pretty much all the questions assume that there are only three family models, none of which take into account fathers:
Q38: In general, what is the ideal situation for CHILDREN—mothers working full-time, mothers working parttime, or mothers not working at all outside the home?
This is asinine. It assumes there is no room for father involvement. It assumes the working status of dads means absolutely nothing. It assumes that child care is solely a mother issue. This is the worst possible assumption to perpetuate if we seriously want to get to a point where we can think about childrearing as a gender-neutral thing.

I have all sorts of other issues with the survey, some of which are highlighted by Ellen Galinsky in this Washington Post story, and some of which are highlighted by mommy warriors Hirshman and Bennetts in this AP piece. But I'll leave that to the experts.


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