Let us now consider again what might likely be the sociological question of the 1980s: What happens to our happy dual-career couple when they become dual-career parents?
Much has been written about Superwoman, the young woman torn between the expectations of her mother's generation and her own, the woman who wants it all and thinks she has to do it all, perfectly. Through Superwoman, we've become acquainted with the Superwoman Syndrome, the tale of pressure, depression and frazzlement that these Superwomen frequently tell.
Now there is Superman and his version of the Superman Syndrome.
"Many men feel they've made a lot of changes," says Lucia Gilbert, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas and author of a book on the subject. "They're intimately involved in parenting. They support their spouses' ambitions. And they're not getting any recognition for any of it.
"In a sense, they are trying to be Supermen because they're afraid to ask society to change -- to ask for child care, different benefits, paternity leave. They're putting up a good front and trying to do it all, just like Superwomen."
Often torn between their responsibilities at home and at work, inundated with pressures and accorded little understanding either in the workplace or in society, Supermen, says Gilbert, face stresses that correspond closely to the Superwoman Syndrome.
Like its counterpart, the Superman Syndrome tends to manifest itself in what Gilbert, who has studied dual-career families for 10 years, calls role overload and overloaded time demands: These men stretch themselves too thin, in too many directions.
"And other people aren't at all sympathetic," says Gilbert, author of Men in Dual-Career Families: Current Realities and Future Prospects (Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 1985) "It's because Supermen look like they have everything. The family has two incomes. They have wives and children.
"In some senses, it's easier for women to expand their roles -- as they have, into the workplace -- than for men to. Men have more narrowly defined roles. These days, we're all expected to live up to what's been a male standard. We can all move toward that -- but who wants to move toward a traditionally female standard?
"Society doesn't help at all because it's so hard for societal change to occur. But role-sharing, dual-career marriages are getting easier. More people are doing it, so these men don't feel so strange. And more women want these kinds of marriages. There have been small changes."
Still, Gilbert has found that the Superman Syndrome is likely to occur only in what she's labeled role-sharing relationships -- marriages in which both partners make a real effort to share responsibilities in and out of the home -- which account for only 30 percent of marriages.
Gilbert does not mince words about the other 70 percent of the husbands she studied.
About 40 percent of families fall into her traditional dual-career category: "The wife is in a career full-time," says Gilbert, "but the husband's salary is much greater. She does all the home and family work. He's proud of her, and he tells other people he doesn't know how she does it all. She does it all because he won't do any of it. She's Superwoman.
"The other 30 percent of our sample" -- Gilbert calls them armchair liberals -- "say they want to be very involved with the children, but they view anything to do with the home as women's work. They'll help with some of the parenting, but they won't do housework."
No matter which general pattern a dual-career marriage assumes, the arrival of children can easily change the shape of the marriage, says Gilbert. "That's when the man's support of his wife's career involvement becomes really important. It's so easy at that time for the man simply to free himself up for his own professional work, and it's a subtle thing. The woman feels so guilty and torn anyway -- and she doesn't have any role models. It's easy for her to feel she should do everything, and it's easy for him to let her."