There was a recent Washington Post article about how the United State’s poor support for working parents leads to low levels of women in the workforce, and I’ve seen that first hand as I have extended family members who have chosen to leave the workforce because the cost of childcare would have been more than their current wages.
This is a huge issue, and I’m glad it is getting media attention. But I have another question: Why aren’t more dads involved in childcare?
Is it because of a discrepancy in salaries? Because women feel more attachment to their children? I think these are red herrings, and the real answer has to do with societal expectations and role models. Let’s look at why I think so…
One possibility is that there is a discrepancy in salaries – ie families are making the economic decision that losing the incremental income from the mother leaving work or working part time makes more sense than the same for the father. But this doesn’t ring true to me – yes, there is a wage gap between men and women, but there is evidence that much of this is related to caregiving itself. Studies have found between a 5% and 7% increase in the wage gap for mothers PER CHILD.
The reasons for this increase are many and complicated, but many have to do with the time taken for childcare itself. This indicates to me that much of the wage gap is a RESULT of women being caretakers, not something that results in it. Before children are on the scene, the salary gap is much smaller, and given the higher rates of college achievement among women now of childbearing age, I would guess that there are almost as many couples where the woman makes more than the man than vice versa. Certainly it’s closer than the 10 to 1 ratio of stay at home moms vs stay at home dads.
Another possibility that has been raised is the difference in initial attachment – maybe mothers just feel closer to their babies than fathers do. I think this too is mistaken – In fact nearly half of new mothers report report no genuine feelings for their child upon birth. It can take up to 9 weeks for strong bonding to develop, a common (and unfortunate) source of guilt for the mother. It once again looks like we’re placing the cart before the horse: Caring about a baby comes from caring for them, not the other way around!
No wonder fathers don’t feel as much attachment to their babies if they’re not being equal participants in caring for those babies. But once again, why does that happen?
Now we get to where I think things are coming from. We come from a past where men were the ones who earned salaries and held power, while women did neither of those things and cared for children. Even though those days have passed – compared to men, women are now more likely to complete college, more likely to go to graduate school, and increasingly likely to compete and hold power in traditionally male dominated occupations – the expectations from those eras persist throughout our society.
We persist in holding up stereotypes of men as incompetent in the home, unable to do household tasks or take care of children. And while it is acceptable (if not always economically feasible) to have a single earner household with a male breadwinner, families that reverse this and have a female breadwinner and a male caregiver face disrespect and even ridicule. In fact there was even a recent study showing that father-specific programs that can create an ‘expectation’ of paternal involvement in the home result in far greater participation than generic ‘parental’ programs that apply equally to men and women.
Finally, I want to talk about role models. We suffer from a severe lack of visible, family-first male role models! I’m talking men who are successful, visible, and talk openly about their involvement in their family and caregiving. We are finally starting to get more visibility of “stay at home dads”, with a number of prominant “daddy bloggers” and mainstream media starting to pay attention, which is wonderful. But I think we need more – Even in families with two working parents, women spend almost twice as much time on childcare and housework than men.
We need more men in politics, entertainment, and business to start stepping up and rebutting the idea that men can only have a successful career if they neglect their home life. We need more role models showing men that taking care of their kids isn’t somehow sacrificing their masculinity or their chance at success.
What do you think?
Do you agree, does my reasoning here make sense? Or am I totally off base? Let me know in the comments!