ESP Book Review: The Unfinished Revolution
On the cusp of our own book's release in one week, we are happy to review a wonderful new book by sociologist, Kathleen Gerson. Dr. Gerson is the author of several well-known gender studies books such as No Man's Land: Men's Changing Commitments to Work and Family and The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality. Now, she adds to this literature with The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation if Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America. We have long been fans of her work, and had the opportunity to meet up with Dr. Gerson at a couple of conferences last year. She is a diehard optimist among so many pessimistic peers in her field, and a true believer in the value of ESP. We count her among our closest academic mentors and supporters.
Even without this glowing introduction, we'd be excited to read her new book. It is an analysis of in-depth interviews with 120 young men and women - ages 18 to 32 - on how they feel about their families of origin and how they would like to structure their relationships as adults. The book is a revealing window into how the newest generation of adult partners/parents views the gender changes that took place in their parents' lives and how they plan to carry out future changes in their own lives.
The good news in the book's pages is abundant. Looking back at the interviewees' childhood experiences, Dr. Gerson finds that they are far more focused on how well their own parents adapted to financial or emotional hardship than on what exact form their family took to do so (e.g., married, divorced, male breadwinner/SAHM, dual income). A happy childhood home was most strongly related not to its form but rather to how well it supported all family members with mutually respectful relationships, a satisfying balance between work and home, and caring, egalitarian bonds. Sounds a lot like ESP, right?
Contrary to some popular opinions that pin young men and women as either relationship drifters who shun commitment or traditionalists who are opting out of workplace equality, Dr. Gerson also found that most of her interviewees desired a lasting, egalitarian partnership for themselves. The majority of both women and men want a committed bond in which they share both paid work and family caretaking, regardless of how they were raised.
The bad news is that these young respondents don't think that they can find what they are looking for - the right partner or the right job that allows them to truly balance work and family in an equal partnership. Instead, they think they will have to settle for something that is a distant second to their dream future. This is indeed bad news, but it gets worse. The second choice life for most women interviewees is different than the second choice for most men. Incompatibly different.
The women are determined not to be trapped in an unhappy marriage or mistreated by an unfaithful partner, and so center their futures around work at all costs. If they can't have an equal partnership, they will settle instead for economic independence. The men, however, can't quite see how equal sharing will play out for them in the still-traditional world of work, and so choose a second option that keeps them at the head of the household - as primary breadwinner.
But back up a minute. What they really want is ESP. Or, in Dr. Gerson's eloquent words, "they want to create enduring and egalitarian partnerships that allow them to strike a personal balance between family and work." The bolding is mine, pointing out a striking resemblance to the two foundations of equally shared parenting - an equal partnership and balanced lives for both partners. Yet, "it is often easier to hold values than to live them, and young adults face a gap between what they want and what they think they can actually get."
The Unfinished Revolution includes lovely details about these young adults' desires for equality and balance, and why these values are so important to them - "not [as] a selfish wish to have it all, but rather a shared desire for the best of both worlds." They hope to get there even if they have to sacrifice maximizing their incomes, but they don't have role models or a blueprint to follow.
At least for another week...
We highly recommend The Unfinished Revolution, which has joined our other favorite ESP references on our Resources page.