Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Food (or Stats) For Thought

Thanks to Jason, who pointed me to this Boston Globe piece from last week, I am only now stumbling upon this absolutely brilliant Families and Work Institute release that details their surveys on what the next generation thinks about work and home.

I've argued for a long time that Gen X has a completely different (broader, more flexible) view of work-family balance than the boomers before them and that Gen Y is waaay more willing to step off the hampster wheel for family than even my Xer peers. The FWI study backs that up.

Among the highlights:
  • "26 percent of women living in dual-earner couples had annual earnings at least 10 percentage points higher than that of spouses/partners, up from 15 percent in 1997." That's a huge expansion of families that could afford to have dads at home.
  • Only 41 percent of employees in 2008 believe it is better to have dad be the breadwinner and mom at home. It was down from 64 percent in 1977. More striking: 74 percent of guys thought that way in 1977, when I was in diapers. Today, the number among men is 42 percent. Is that low enough? No. But it's an amazing change in societies attitudes in the blink of an eye, demographically.
  • In 1992, 21 percent of moms said that dads were pulling equal duty -- or better -- around the house. We're up to 31 percent now. (If you ask the dads, 49 percent say they are at least equal partners. *That* discrepancy deserves some followup.)
  • Dads who work spend 50 percent more time with their kids per day than a similar group of dads did 30 years ago. (3 hours a day versus 2 hours a day. Working moms have held steady at 3.8 hours.) For working dads under 29, that number jumps to 4.3 hours.
There are a lot of numbers to digest, but they suggest that we're moving quickly (though not quickly enough) to a more equal work when it comes to the home duties. Of course, my worry continues to be that we'll hit a point of diminishing returns: sure, most of us are doing more around the house than our dads did, but will the next generation make similar gains. Or are we nearing the point of "good enough," where a dad in 2010 is about as engaged as a dad from 2000 -- and still less engaged than the average mom?

This isn't all good news: dads are may more work-life stressed than they ever used to be, but it's a small price to pay for progress.

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