Signs of a Truce in the Mommy Wars - The New York Times

Just in time for the Worker-Belle debut, an article about changing attitudes regarding working parents.

Even though 70 percent of mothers and 93 percent of fathers have jobs, Americans’ attitudes about working parents — mothers as caregivers, fathers as breadwinners — have been remarkably slow to change.

New research, though, reveals a shift in attitudes. Not only do as many as 92 percent of Americans now favor mothers working in many situations, but as many as 77 percent also support fathers not working when it is more ideal to stay home. The data uncover a sharply changing definition of fatherhood.

Americans recognize parents must make trade-offs as they try to provide for their children while rearing them, the new survey found. How they feel about working mothers and stay-at-home fathers depends more on satisfaction with jobs and child care and how much the family depends on their income — and less on gender.

“Americans no longer buy into this notion that gender is the most important defining criteria in how families operate,” said Kathleen Gerson, a sociologist at New York University and a co-author of the paper, which will be published in the academic journal Gender and Society this spring. “Americans increasingly understand that families face a lot of pressures, and they don’t make these judgments about what men and women should be doing.”

There is a class divide regarding which parents Americans think should work or not, but no major divide based on the respondents’ own socioeconomic status. People are more likely to favor single mothers working than married mothers, and less likely to endorse both parents working when their families don’t depend on the extra income.

Still, it’s a sign that the so-called mommy wars could be ending. The national debate seems to be shifting from whether mothers should work to how policies could help working parents manage.

“Our institutions have not caught up with those cultural changes,” Ms. Gerson said. “We don’t provide the satisfying flexible jobs, the high-quality child care and the economic resources that allow people to actually make the decisions that they deem best for themselves and others.”

The most striking shift was the diminishing expectation that fathers must be providers. Over all, Americans are more likely to think that fathers should work than mothers, but their support for working fathers is as conditional as it is for mothers. The data show a more varied and nuanced view of fathers’ role, the researchers said.

“We still have a breadwinner ideal for most men, but when it comes down to practical, everyday decisions that parents are making, especially in dual-earner families, there’s been huge change,” said Scott Coltrane, the provost of the University of Oregon and a sociologist who studies fatherhood. He was not involved with this study but said it supported findings from other research.

Claire Cain Miller   DEC. 10, 2015