Even Breadwinning Wives Don’t Get Equality at Home (2019) by H. A. Rao
When Americans think about fixing gender equality, they tend to focus on the workplace. But gender equality for women still lags in another realm: their own houses.
Americans are making major strides toward gender equality. Women have surpassed men in obtaining college degrees.
Women have flocked to many formerly male-dominated occupations such as law and medicine.
In 2018, a record number of women candidates were elected to Congress. And high-school seniors today are more likely than their counterparts 40 years ago to say they strongly believe that women should have the same opportunities as men to succeed in school and at work.
But gender equality for women still lags in another realm: their own home.
That women should take on the bulk of domestic responsibilities is still a widespread belief. Married American mothers spend almost twice as much time on housework and child care than do married fathers. Although American mothers—including those with young children—are far more likely to be working now than in past decades, they spend more time on child care today than did moms in the 1960s.
…Why are Americans so reluctant to acknowledge wives who are breadwinners? One reason is that couples in the U.S. continue to idealize and privilege a family structure with a male breadwinner and a female homemaker.
Recognizing women as breadwinners threatens the idea that a family fits into that mold.
When wives earn more than husbands, couples often reframe the value of each spouse’s work to elevate the husband’s work as being more prestigious and downplaying the importance of the woman’s job.
One possible explanation for this is that by outearning their husbands, wives worry that they are breaking norms on gender expectations. The same norms are at play for men in female-dominated occupations, such as nursing, who are more likely than other men to do more masculine types of housework like power-hosing the deck or mowing the lawn.
Women in male-dominated occupations, such as law enforcement, tend to do more feminine tasks such as cooking and washing the dishes. These men and women are “correcting” for their jobs by asserting their masculinity and femininity through housework.
…While men have somewhat increased their participation in housework, other aspects of their life—such as the imperative that they must earn and provide for their family—remain largely as they were decades ago.
…When Americans think about fixing gender equality, they tend to direct their ire on the workplace. They focus on why the number of women in higher-level managerial positions or C-suite positions has remained stubbornly stuck for the past few decades.
These workplace considerations are extremely important, but so too is what happens at home.
Until Americans turn their attention to the home, where gender inequality remains deeply protected by old-school social norms, they will have an incomplete picture of the problem and incomplete solutions for addressing it.
Somewhat counterintuitively, addressing the gender gap at home can often be more difficult than in the workplace, since the issue is of inequality between spouses, not colleagues.
…But individuals can play a role in changing their own behavior within families. This gendered division of housework will not be made equal by women doing less, but by men doing more.
Small moments in the home—the wife who tidies up the house when she notices a mess; the husband who mindlessly leaves his wet towel on the bathroom floor, assured that someone else is there to pick it up—lead to larger patterns of inequality within marriages.
Daily habits matter, and without change they’ll continue to drag women down.