Millennials Want Equality at Work, Traditional Roles at Home

Posted By Terri Williams on June 26, 2017 at 7:57 am
Millennials Want Equality at Work, Traditional Roles at Home

Millennials are disrupting the workplace and causing employers to rethink their recruitment and retainment strategies. But the generation may not be as progressive as initially believed. A recent report, “Trending Toward Traditionalism?” presented at the 2017 Council on Contemporary Families’ Gender and Millennials Symposium, reveals millennials are more progressive than previous generations regarding gender equality in the workplace but embrace more traditional roles regarding gender in the home.

That’s certainly not what one would expect from a generation that demands greater flexibility on the job, expects more frequent feedback from work managers, and is much more willing to engage in job-hopping.

Excerpts from the report reveal that compared with previous generations, millennials were:

  • More likely to agree that women should be considered as seriously as men for jobs as executives or politicians.
  • More likely to agree that a woman should have exactly the same job opportunities as a man.
  • More likely to agree that a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.
  • More likely to disagree that a preschool child is likely to suffer if the mother works.

However, compared with previous generations, millennials were:

  • Less likely to disagree that it is usually better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.
  • Less likely to disagree that the husband should make all the important decisions in the family.

Trend reversal?

Joanna Pepin, M.A., PhD candidate in the department of sociology at the University of Maryland, tells GoodCall®, “Previous research suggested advances in women working would lead to improved gender equality in other realms, so we were surprised to see a reversal in support for egalitarian roles in families.”

The irony of believing that women should be allowed to pursue the same job opportunities as men while also believing that women should be the primary homemaker is not lost on Arielle Kuperberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies in the department of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kuperberg, who is a gender scholar and has conducted research on the pay gap and housework, is disheartened – but not surprised – by the results.

“I know that one of the major things that is leading to that persistent pay gap is gender inequality in the home – women are still the ones to become a stay at home parent when one parent steps back from the workforce, still the ones doing the majority of house care and childcare, still the ones to take off from work when their child is sick or leave early to pick up their child from daycare,” she tells GoodCall®. And as a result, Kuperberg says while the pay gap between childless women and men has narrowed, the needle hasn’t moved among mothers.

Previous GoodCall® articles have examined various topics, such as the notion that women who major in STEM and business disciplines are subject to a marriage market penalty.  Is it possible that men objectively believe in workplace equality but feel differently when it comes to traditional roles at home?

According to Pepin, this viewpoint may not be limited to one gender. “One thing we found interesting was that although women were consistently more egalitarian than their male counterparts, in our research, we saw the changes trend in the same way for both genders.” Pepin points to research by Kathleen Gerson, which reveals that most young adults say they want an equal relationship. However, if this is not possible, the majority of men felt that they should be the bread winner and women should be the homemaker. On the other hand, the majority of women felt they would choose to be self-sufficient by remaining single or being divorced.

“Gendered ideas of parenting are still strong and it is taken for granted that women will be the primary parent, so other arrangements are often not even considered,” Kuperberg says. In fact, she teaches about stay at home dads in a class on the family and has frequently had students remark that they didn’t know a man “could” be a stay at home dad and break free from the traditional roles.

“But also, and perhaps more importantly, society is not set up in a way that accommodates two working parents, unless they both earn a fairly high wage,” Kuperberg explains. “Day care expenses are very high – upwards of $1,000 a month per child even in low cost areas, and much higher in high cost areas.”

As a result, for working mothers who don’t earn a lot of money, Kuperberg says staying at home might be more realistic – especially when the mother has more than one child in day care.

“That is why we find higher rates of staying at home among moms with lower education levels, who can’t earn very high wages if they are working – for them, the costs of working don’t add up to the benefits,” Pepin says.

Kuperberg agrees and says the country’s public school system also presents a logistical nightmare for working parents. “The public school system was set up under the assumption that a parent would be at home – which was likely the case during the era the public school system was being established.” However, now that millions of women are in the workforce, she says that the public school structure has remained the same. “That is why even though the standard work day ends at 5 p.m., public schools still let out at around 3 p.m. or earlier, and have summers off and sometimes random days here or there where children have off as well.”

And, Kuperberg believes these experiences may play a part in shaping the beliefs of millennials regarding traditional roles. “I think young adults, many of whom have grown up under those types of complicated arrangements, can find all of that to be very daunting logistically, and young adults may feel it would be easier and better for their children to have a stay at home parent and earn a bit less money – or even break even,” Kuperberg explains.

A different view of millennials and traditional roles

However, not everyone believes that millennials are more conservative than previous generations as it relates to traditional roles in a family. Barbara J. Risman, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a senior scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families, tells GoodCall® that she and her cohorts conducted a study that found millennials were neither rejecting the gender revolution nor advancing the feminist cause. “When it comes to overall trends, the statistical averages are about the same: the big changes in attitude toward gender equality happened in the baby boomer generation, but the other generations follow along.”

Risman explains that there are no longer people who would be considered traditionalists and don’t believe that women should have the same rights as men either at home or at work. Instead, she says that most people are either egalitarian and in favor of equality both at home and work, or they are ambivalent and agree with workplace equality but not equality in the home.

“There are no traditionalists, as defined as people who don’t think women have a place in the workforce; that kind of traditional is extinct,” Risman says. And while she doesn’t believe that millennials have slipped backwards, Risman isn’t sure there’s cause for celebration because millennials are moving very slowly toward equality.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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