In the summer of 2016, after numerous arguments with my wife and weeks of penance once I realized I was wrong, I embarked on new research into the inequities of family and household responsibilities between men and women, particularly among working parents.
What I found in that research was that not only were women carrying a grossly-outweighed portion of the family workload, it was getting worse. Even in traditionally-male-leaning areas like banking and finance, women were beginning to equal if not surpass men as the primary household decision-makers. No surprise, those same women – especially working moms – were reporting levels of stress and overall unhappiness that dwarfed levels among men.
No wonder my wife – and countless wives around the country – had a bone to pick with their husband. Things were badly out of balance. And they still are.
Look no further than the U.S. Women’s Nationals Soccer Team and their triumph in the World Cup this past weekend. Their resounding victory put an exclamation point on screams for equal pay – if not more than equal – to a far less accomplished men’s team. Why this is even a question is beyond reason.
Three years after our initial research, a #MeToo movement, nationwide women’s marches, and a dubious political era later, we thought it was time to revisit the data to see what, if anything, has changed.
What did we find in our new research? The good news is that things seem to be improving. The bad news is, it’s happening too slowly.
A Quick Look Back
The research we published in 2016 showed that 57% of U.S. adult women were currently employed for pay – representing a 50% increase since 1970. Amazingly, in just three years, buoyed by a robust job market, that number climbed to 67% in the most recent quarter, according to CivicScience data. Adult men are employed at a rate of 71%, meaning the gender gap in the workforce (at least by absolute number) is winnowing away to nothing.
Way back in 2016 B.T. (“Before Trump”), CivicScience data showed remarkable disparity between female and male family workloads. 42% of working moms said they handled “much more” or “somewhat more” of their household, financial, and family affairs than their male partner. For what it’s worth, that number is fallen, just slightly, to 40%.
But what happens when we break the numbers down further?
The Three-Year Trend
The chart below compares the original CivicScience data from 2016 to updated numbers collected May and June of 2019. Each column represents the percentage of working moms and working dads, respectively, who claim to do the majority of activity or decision-making in five areas.
Overall, we can see mostly consistent changes in these figures. The number of working moms who claim to do the majority of cooking, has fallen from 72% to 64% since 2016. Meanwhile, the number of working dads who claim to do the majority of cooking has climbed only 1%, suggesting that the culinary duties are being shared at a much higher rate. That’s a start, I suppose.
Likewise, the number of working moms who say they do the majority of grocery and other household shopping has fallen – each just a few percentage points over the past three years. Still, women are nearly 2X more likely to be the chief grocery shopper, while a measly 15% of working dads do the balance of household and children’s purchases. 15%.
The Reverse Trend
What stands out most in this chart, however, is the movement (or non-movement) in the areas where men are traditionally more active: Banking, Investments, Healthcare, and Insurance. On the healthcare and insurance front, the numbers are essentially flat between 2016 and 2019.
But look at the banking and investment numbers. The percentage of working moms who bear the brunt of financial responsibilities for their households jumped 5 points in less than three years – bringing them into a dead heat with working dads in this category (Financial service marketers, take note). Some might try to spin this as a good thing. Women having more authority over financial matters could be seen as a big step toward empowerment. Either way, it creates a lot more work for women who are already egregiously overworked.
The Stressful Math
So, what do these glacial changes mean at the end of the day? Are women feeling an appreciable difference as their male counterparts pick up a few more grocery and Target runs? Sadly, it appears not.
In our 2016 report, we noted that working moms were roughly 20% more likely than working dads to characterize their lives as “very stressed out.” The spread today? 30%.
While there are reasons to believe the wheels of progress are rolling in the right direction, they appear to be stuck in first gear, at best. More importantly, if these individual areas of change aren’t adding up to a happier and well-balanced life for our working moms, does it even really matter? Sometimes, numbers don’t answer everything.
To all my brothers from other mothers: We still have a lot more work to do.
And yes. Pay the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team what they deserve. Good grief.