Gender roles persist in family structure

Published April 18, 2017, 7:20 p.m. - 173 views


Family structure has been a long-debated topic in American culture. These controversies range from questions about the overall family dynamic to the concept of divorce, addressed by magazine headlines that read, “How to fix your marriage fast” and “Negotiating with your Spouse.” However, perhaps one of the most disputed topics is one that is hardly talked about: gender roles in the household. This may be a little surprising to some, given that it’s 2017. Weren’t we supposed to have solved gender disparities by now? Sadly, this is far from the truth. Data suggests that now more than ever, millennials believe that the most successful type of family consists of a woman who cares for the home and a man who serves as the breadwinner. 
This traditional household system has regained popularity among millennials for a variety of reasons. First, although support for equal opportunities in the workforce has increased, a new type of “egalitarian essentialism” has also increased. Egalitarian essentialism refers to the idea that “as long as women are not prevented from choosing high-powered careers, or forced out of them upon entering parenthood, their individual choices are freely made and are probably for the best,” according to Stephanie Coontz, the Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families. This means that as long as men and women choose the role that they want to have in the family, it is okay if traditional gender roles are taken on. 
However, egalitarian essentialism glosses over the fact that our society is still dominated by traditional values. Therefore, even if these values may not overtly stigmatize  a woman who works or a man who stays at home, there will always be subtle reminders that it is not completely accepted. Additionally, these subtle cues are present starting from an early age, as seen in childhood books that feature the mom as the caretaker and the dad as the money maker, a scenario which outnumbers any other alternative dynamic. One’s childhood family dynamic can also have a lasting impact. For example, if one’s parents lived by traditional gender roles, it would be more likely that the child would also grow up to do the same. 
Another reason for the widespread support of traditional household values stems from the current financial situation of many families. In the United States especially, there is a lack of affordable child support for parents, which means that families must find alternatives to babysitters or nannies. Oftentimes, the mother ends up being the caretaker, and must leave her position at work to become a stay-at-home mom. However, this does not mean that this is what the woman wants – instead, it is usually done to alleviate financial stress for the family. Without adequate paid leave, it is difficult to juggle work and parenting. Millennials’ views on the household are reflecting this change.  
The data shows that while white men are opposed to the notion of the “breadwinning male” more than any other subcategory, in general, millenials are in favor of preserving traditional household roles. This shows that this shift in ideology is not being pushed by the socially dominant group, but by the collective whole. Additionally, this data should be interpreted with caution, because many millenial females are nonetheless pursuing careers in fields like medicine, law, politics and science. However, whatever occupation one pursues, every person deserves to be able to choose what he or she wants to do and be respected for that decision, including being a stay-at-home mom or dad. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and she is the strongest person I know. 
The truth of the matter is, there is not and will never be one standard form of a successful and equitable household. For some, the most successful form may be a traditional kind, but for others, it may be completely different. Although the data does show that millennials are starting to lean towards traditional roles, it could also just show that with the rise of financial uncertainty, people tend to revert back to what they grew up seeing and experiencing.




Hana Anderson ’20 (anders38@stolaf.edu) is from Duluth, Minn. Her major is undecided.

Last Updated 4/18/2017

About the Author

Hana Anderson, class of 2019 is a major.

anders38@stolaf.edu

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