Dads Change Diapers as Moms Bring Home the Bacon
Policy + Politics

Dads Change Diapers as Moms Bring Home the Bacon


Back in 2002, roughly 58 percent of fathers helped their kids with their homework or read to them at night, while 82 percent helped bathe and diaper their infants. More recently, the share of fathers helping out at home has grown substantially, with nearly two-thirds supervising homework or reading to their kids and 93 percent bathing their infants and changing their diapers.

It’s hardly a news flash that men are assuming more responsibility for domestic chores than ever before. But it is an important leading indicator of the significant changes that have occurred in the roles being played within average American families over the past half century – and the impact that is having on the economy and the workplace.

Related: Why Men and Women Still Can’t Get Along at Work

According to a new study by President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers released on Thursday, women now represent almost half of the overall workforce. At the same time, married couples increasingly are sharing childcare responsibilities as both partners struggle to balance home life with work. And people are working longer hours than they did in the past.

Indeed, today both parents are working in more than six out of every ten households with children, which is up from four out of 10 in 1968.

“One of the largest changes in work and family life occurred over the last century as women became more equal participants in the labor force by increasing their participation in paid work, obtaining more education and training, and widening the scope of occupation types they entered,” the report states. “Since the beginning of the 1950s, women’s labor force participation has increased by around 25 percentage points, while men’s labor force participation has decreased by around 17 percentage points.”

The study’s findings are grist for the Obama administration’s drive to assist working families with children to help alleviate mounting   pressures at home and in the workplace by providing expanded child care benefits and greater flexibility in their hours. 

Related: The Gender Pay Gap in Obama’s White House

As part of his fiscal 2016 budget proposal, Obama is seeking landmark investments in a child care and development fund to provide high-quality childcare for low income families. The president has also proposed a tripling of the maximum childcare tax credit to $3,000 per young child, a new tax credit program for dual-earner families and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit program for single, childless adults.

“With women and men increasingly sharing breadwinning and care­giving responsibilities, today’s working families need a modern work­place—one with workplace flexibility, paid family and sick leave, access to family-supporting and work-supporting policies like quality child care and eldercare to allow them to make the choices that best fit their needs,” the study concluded.

The president and senior officials have argued that such policies would lead to higher labor force participation, greater labor productivity and work engagement, and better allocation of talent across the economy.

Women not only make up nearly half of the workforce, but they are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Women also receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men.

Related: Obama’s New Tax Plan: So Much for Middle Class Economics

The historic rise in women in the workforce tapered off some during the past decade, according to the Council of Economic Advisers study, due in part to retirement and the adverse effects of the Great Recession.

Still, in 2013, women accounted for 46.9 percent of all workers and 44.1 percent of all hours worked, according to the CEA report. At the same time, women have increased their labor market skills by acquiring more education and training, staying in the job market longer and moving into professions previously dominated by males -- such as doctors, dentists, accountants and lawyers.

What’s more, over 40 percent of mothers are now the sole or primary source of income for the household, reflecting both an increase in female-headed households and increased earnings among married women. In 2013, employed married women’s earnings constituted 44 percent of their family’s earnings, up from 37 percent in 1970, according to the CEA.

As more and more mothers have entered the labor force, fathers are increasingly taking on child-care responsibilities. On average, fathers spent four fewer hours a week on paid work in 2013 than in 1965, and 4.2 more hours a week on child care and 5.3 hours a week more on housework, according to the government study.

“So fathers are working more hours than in the past when the work of child care and household tasks is included, but a much larger share of their work is home production,” the report found.

One unpleasant side effect of the emergence of dual-earning couples with children and women who are the chief breadwinners in their families is the tension it creates at home.

“As both men and women increasingly perform multiple roles, many struggle to meet their work and family goals,” the CEA study notes. “Among dual-earning couples, the likelihood of reporting work-family conflict has become especially pronounced among fathers.”

For example, in 2008, 60 percent of fathers in dual-earner couples reported work-family conflict, compared to 35 percent in 1977—a 25 percentage-point increase in just one generation.  Although in 1977 mothers in dual-earning cou­ples were more likely to report work-family conflict than fathers, this pattern has been reversed. In 2008, fathers were more likely to report work-family conflict, consistent with the rise in time spent on child care among fathers.

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