Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar

Kelly Lynn Cruz
"I did stay home with my daughter the first couple years, but financially you just can't make it on one salary anymore," says Kelly Lynn Cruz, 22,
of Henderson, Md.,
(By Mark Gail/The Washington Post)
Page Two

'Making Things Easier'

Women currently make up nearly half of all entry- and mid-level managers in American corporations, up from 17 percent in 1972. But the executive suite remains disproportionately male: A 1995 survey of Fortune 500 corporations found that only 1 in 10 corporate officers and fewer than 3 percent of all chief executive officers are women.

In higher education, gender equity is a reality. Slightly more than half of all bachelor's degrees were awarded to women last year, and the percentage of doctoral degrees granted to white women has increased from 25 percent in 1977 to 44 percent in 1993. Among African Americans, women receive more of the doctorates.

At home, men do more around the house than their fathers ever did. But the burden still falls on women: On average, working mothers do about 20 hours of housework a week, down from 30 hours two decades ago, while their husbands are doing 10 hours a week, up from 5 hours, Bianchi said in the book. And it's still women who say they're responsible for the way the house looks, according to the Post-Kaiser-Harvard polls.

The survey of couples with children found that women still do most of the food shopping, laundry, cooking, cleaning, arranging for child care and babysitters, and taking children to appointments or after-school activities – even when both parents work full time. Men tend to mow the lawn, shovel the snow and take out the trash, the survey found.

In important ways, the survey suggests that we have yet to find new patterns of living that recognize the real workloads of two-career couples with children, and some resentment, nostalgia and fatigue are reflected in the survey results.

"I work, my husband works, I come home and I work. I clean the house and I do my laundry," said Susan Gehrke, 44, a tenant assistant for the elderly in La Crosse, Wis. "Someone comes over and the house is a mess, they don't look at the man and think, 'What a slob,' they look at her and say, 'What a slob.' "

Said Lindow, 35, the Green Bay warehouse operations manager, whose wife also works full time: "Your kids are going to the day care, or wherever they are taken care of by somebody else. By the time you get done with your job, you've got to rush home and make supper, do whatever, and then you have to run your kids somewhere else. You don't get enough time to spend with your wife anymore, either, because you are both working. You're lucky if you get to see your wife one or two hours a day. What kind of quality time is that?"

Age, more than sex, shapes attitudes toward the changing roles of men and women, the survey suggests. Younger men and women were far more likely than their elders to say the change in gender roles has made their lives better.

"These changes have made a lot of people's lives better and it's made some people's lives worse," said the 32-year-old Sande, who is single. He added: "Any time there is a change like there has been in my generation, there is always going to be some growing pains. But as a whole I think it's moving toward the direction of making things easier, better."

Powerful social and economic forces nourish and sustain the trends that create these tensions. Two out of three men and women surveyed agreed that it takes two incomes to get by these days; about half the respondents – men and women – said they work mostly because they must.

One out of every five working women said she would cheerfully quit her job if only she could afford to – but so did 1 in 5 men surveyed. Today, even mid-career crises are gender-neutral.

"I did stay home with my daughter the first couple years, but financially you just can't make it on one salary anymore," said Kelly Lynn Cruz, 22, of Henderson, Md., who is between jobs and has one child and another on the way. "It's hard on my family, anyway. I don't get to spend as much time with my child. The housework isn't always done, which makes me feel like I'm not always doing my job."

Why is the housework her work? "It just is," she said with a laugh, adding that "he helps. But it's mainly my job. I take care of the inside, he takes care of the outside."

Perhaps not even the '50s housewife worked this hard at home: "I've had grandmothers tell me their daughters work far harder and spend more time with their children than they did" in the 1950s, said Sharon Hays, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies family structure.

Many Americans say that mounting pressures to be it all and to have it all put many relationships on the rocks. In the survey, 7 in 10 said there's too much pressure on both men and women today to realize the American ideal: marriage, family and a successful career. Many survey respondents in subsequent interviews said they put the pressure on themselves. Not surprisingly, those who felt this tension most acutely also were more likely to say it's harder to make marriages and families work.

"There's too much pressure on everyone, period, whether they're men or women," said Karen Mapp, a 42-year-old PhD candidate and researcher in Boston.

No Going Back
In response to these pressures, 4 in 10 of those surveyed said, it would be better to return to the gender roles of the 1950s, a dimly remembered world of television's Ozzie and Harriet and their blithe suburban existence.

"I definitely think it would be good to go back," said Rose Pierre-Louis, 40, a social worker in Brooklyn, N.Y., who was among those interviewed in the poll. "Kids aren't being raised, they're just growing up. Nobody's getting married anymore. There's no respect between men and women, [or from] children for their parents."

But just as many Americans say they aren't eager to go back – particularly young people, who do not bear the burden of their parents' nostalgia.

"I've never been under the impression that I couldn't do something because I was a woman," said Jennifer Wedberg, 25, a graphics designer who lives in Lisle, Ill. "It would be a shame if things went back to the way they were in the '50s. ... It's easier to grow up knowing that some day you're just going to get married and be a mom or a wife, and now it's more complex, you have to figure out what you want to do with your life. ... But I think more choices is always a good thing."

Young women like Wedberg have many of the same conflicts – over whether to stay home or take an outside job after having children – that their mothers might have had. But they also believe they are entitled to be full participants in areas of life their mothers had to fight to enter, and they assume their personal identity includes a job or a career. Similarly, young men generally accept that their lives at work and in the home have changed, and with these transformations have come new duties, responsibilities and rewards. "I'd just as soon stay home with the kids," said Lindow, who added that it doesn't bother him that his wife has a better job than he does.

"I think a lot of the problems we hear of now are because we have raised our standards," said Christopher M. Moeller, 22, a radio reporter in Des Moines. "We're more involved in each other's lives. ... We value equality, we value everybody wanting to have self-esteem, to get everything they want, and I don't see where imposing a limit on more than half of our population accomplishes that."

Assistant director of polling Claudia Deane and staff researcher Robert Thomason contributed to this report.

The Survey Team
These surveys are the fourth in a series of projects that The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University are conducting on contemporary issues.

Representatives of the three sponsors worked closely to develop the survey questionnaire and analyze the results on which this series is based. The Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation with Harvard University are publishing independent summaries of the findings; each organization bears the sole responsibility for the work that appears under its name. The Kaiser Family Foundation and The Post paid for the surveys and related expenses. The survey data will be sent later this year to the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, where copies of the survey questionnaires and data will be available.

The project team included Richard Morin, Post director of polling, and Claudia Deane, assistant director of polling; Robert J. Blendon, a Harvard University professor who holds joint appointments in the School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government, and John Benson, deputy director for public opinion and health/social policy at the Harvard School of Public Health; Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Mollyann Brodie, director of special projects for the Kaiser Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors research into health care and other public policy issues.

In addition, five outside experts on gender attitudes and public opinion helped to shape the survey questionnaire: Suzanne Bianchi, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland; Karen Campbell, professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University; Scott Coltrane, professor of sociology at the University of California at Riverside; William S. Pollack, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University Medical School; and Ruby Takanishi, president of the Foundation for Child Development.

Page One | Printable Full Text

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top

Navigation Bar
Navigation Bar