Saturday, June 14, 2008

Equally shared parenting

There's an interesting article in this week's New York Times Magazine about "equally shared parenting." Writer Lisa Ekdahl provides some statistics on the typical distribution of labor in the home:
The most recent figures from the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households show that the average wife does 31 hours of housework a week while the average husband does 14 — a ratio of slightly more than two to one.

But then break out the couples in which both husband and wife have full-time paying jobs. There, the wife does 28 hours of housework and the husband, 16. Just shy of two to one, which makes no sense at all.

She quotes University of Buffalo professor Sampson Lee Blair, who finds the "sadly comic" result that even "in married couples 'where she has a job and he doesn’t, and where you would anticipate a complete reversal, even then you find the wife doing the majority of the housework.'" Wow. How unfair can you get?

Ekdahl then profiles several couples who are committed to the idea of equally shared parenting. Most seem to arrange approximately equal work hours for both partners, for example, each parent arranging a four-day work week or working opposite part-time schedules. Then each parent will have certain designated times for child care. Household responsibilities are also roughly equally divided (though in all the profiled couples, it seems the wife still tends to do more of the chores and have more of a manager role in the household). One couple even tracks their time commitments with a color-coded chart.

It's a great article in that it's lengthy enough to give readers a look at how this really plays out in practice, rather than an airbrushed view of what some might dismiss as a "cute" idea. I'm struck by how, even in the profiled couples who seem to represent the (I'm guessing) very small percentage of Americans who make equally shared parenting a top priority, there is still a strong tendency for childcare and chores to default to the woman. The arrangement involves a lot of compromise and constant struggle against societal expectations. But despite the imperfections, I think if more couples did this, it would be nothing short of revolutionary--for women, of course, in countless ways, but also for men. Why shouldn't work and personal time be more balanced for all individuals, regardless of gender? It's an ideal that I think is very much worth striving for.

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