Not So Uncommon After All
I just finished reading a new book called Alone Together that addresses how marriage is changing in America. It is chock full of statistics from two surveys 20 years apart, 1980 and 2000. The book spends quite a bit of time evaluating how marriages have evolved toward equality. Its authors, four professors of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, consider marriages egalitarian based on factors such as shared decision-making, shared breadwinning, shared housework, and shared childcare. They conclude that egalitarian marriages are not only the fastest growing type of marriage (from 14% in 1980 to 30% in 2000) but also the single largest type now in existence. The authors go on to report the following about this trend.
"Even if one takes a cautious approach to the interpretation of the findings..., our results are consistent with the notion that slow but steady shifts in gender relations are gradually transforming marriage for the better."
One section of the book that I particularly enjoyed looks at parents' reported happiness based on the division of household tasks. When one parent does most of the household labor, the other spouse was most happy. However, the person doing the tasks was most unhappy. As the book correctly points out, performing household tasks is a zero-sum game where the more one person does the less the other person has to do. There was only one scenario where BOTH parents reported being happy; you guessed it - when they both felt as if the tasks were equally shared. This analysis held true for division of childcare tasks as well.
I can't think of a better way to describe the value of the team approach which is equally shared parenting. While some may argue that a bit of efficiency is lost when the tasks of raising a family are equally shared between two parents, I would say that a couple is only as happy as the least satisfied parent. And happiness trumps efficiency any day!
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