Evolving Gender Roles in the Family and the Workplace

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In the media

So far, in 2013, the media has placed a great deal of attention on the evolving roles of women in the workplace largely thanks to Marissa Mayer - first for her noteworthy rise to CEO of Yahoo and then for her controversial decision to eliminate telecommuting and work-from-home arrangements at the struggling tech giant.

These high profile cases act as a catalyst to push a healthy, or sometimes less healthy, or even sensationalized dialogue regarding 21st century gender roles both in the home and in the workplace. While Mayer’s high profile case study in a “C-level” position at a global corporation is unquestionably a key piece towards achieving a better understanding of these issues, she is only part of the larger story about gender roles that will continue to unfold for years to come.

Functional division of labor

Looking beyond the news stories to a 2013 public opinion survey report from the Pew Research Center with a sample of 2,511 adults, offers another window into this realm of gender. By offering an analysis of a substantially wider and more diverse subset of the American public than a sound bite can provide Pew sought to uncover how the average adult is managing this balance between work and family obligations on a day-to-day basis. More specifically, the report offers insights into how working parents see their roles evolving both at home and at work.

From a practical perspective, the report clearly demonstrates that over time (since 1965) the number of hours that men and women each spend performing “paid work” is converging. However, most of this convergence is attributable to increases in the time mothers spend doing “paid work”, not due to decreases in these hours for fathers. The report’s authors also point out that when it comes to more traditional domestic duties, such as childcare and housework, women still spend twice as much time performing these tasks on a weekly basis as their paternal counterparts.

Working parents

Another interesting gender based trend is revealed when this same Pew survey sample was asked several questions regarding their perceptions of the ideal work situation for working mothers.

Since 2007, the percent of working mothers who feel their ideal situation is to be employed full-time outside the home has increased by 16% up to 37%. When the same question was asked of working fathers, only 16% felt a full-time working mother would be ideal for their children. This number also came in low overall among the combined group of parents and non-parents, again with 16% indicating a full-time working mother is “best” for children.

This discrepancy between mothers and the remainder of the survey sample suggests that women, but more specifically working mothers, may in fact be the primary driving force behind changes to their own roles in the workplace.

Additional Resources

Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms & Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family.” Pew Research Center. March 14, 2013.