When we first created GreatDad.com three years ago, we said there were four underlying forces that would fuel a trend to more involved fathers in the 21st century:
1. Changing role of women in the workplace and continued evolution toward income parity (and maybe superiority)
2. Lack of job security in a post-industrial economy with far less emphasis on life-long employment with one employer
3. Change in societal expectations about involved fathers versus previous generations
4. Post 9/11 change in perspective on importance of core values including family.
I still think much of this is true though the effect of 9/11 on the family was less than expected after the push toward greater consumerism leading up to the current economic crisis.
In a recent interview with Seattle Post writer Paul Nyhan, we discussed how this current economic crisis could dramatically change the family dynamic in a way not seen since when women entered the workforce in droves during World War II. We both agreed that the world should be ready for a seismic shift, and the news today is the first big shake.
With the recession on the brink of becoming the longest in the postwar era, a milestone may be at hand: Women are poised to surpass men on the nation’s payrolls, taking the majority for the first time in American history.
The reason has less to do with gender equality than with where the ax is falling.
The proportion of women who are working has changed very little since the recession started. But a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men, who are heavily represented in distressed industries like manufacturing and construction. Women tend to be employed in areas like education and health care, which are less sensitive to economic ups and downs, and in jobs that allow more time for child care and other domestic work.
Whether we’ve been aware of it with all the hype about stay-at-home moms, women continue to make major income gains versus men even in families with kids. Wives in a third of dual income households make more than their spouses, and I’ve read that that number is higher or households making more than $100,000. There are the expected reasons behind this trend: greater education and equal rights advances. But a major factor has been a structural shift from male-dominated industries like manufacturing to service industries like education and health care. This is not all good news for women, however, their relative gains have are mostly due to losses by male workers, pulling average household income down in real terms over the last generation.
Watch for more men on the playground and in the PTA. These changes will require open minds by everyone as we all break down our expectations of what “men do” and what “women do” and both learn the pluses and minuses of each other’s traditional roles. Where the end of the last millennium opened the doors to these changes, the decade in front of us will see every stereotype we’ve ever learned overthrown.