Sexism and stay at home moms

I was just thinking I wanted to find a good marriage and family research paper to sink my teeth in to.

This one came across my inbox today, and I didn’t have to get much further than the abstract before I knew it was going to be a doozy.  Read for yourself:

In this article, we examine a heretofore neglected pocket of resistance to the gender revolution in the workplace: married male employees who have stay-at-home wives. We develop and empirically test the theoretical argument suggesting that such organizational members, compared to male employees in modern marriages, are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.

*Bias Alert*
My mother was a stay at home mom.  Therefore my father would have qualified for this study, and it is hard for me to even read their hypothesis without remembering that.  I happen to credit my father with giving me my passion for statistics and data analysis, and he has never once discouraged me from doing anything I wanted to professionally (with the exception of when I mentioned law school….that he soundly discouraged as a waste of talent….and this was  15 years before anyone was talking about a law school bubble).  I will not go in to all the details of my parents marriage here, but I doubt you could find anyone who would call my parents marriage anything less than an equal partnership focused on doing what was best for the family.

As an extra level of bias, I will be continuing my (full-time) job post baby.
*End Alert*

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in both the general population and academic research: people seem to get very hung up on conflating “stay at home mom” with “traditional marriage”.  The study authors do this openly….they admit that they classify a marriage as “modern” based solely on whether or not the wife works full time.  The only criteria for “traditional” is that she doesn’t work at all, and part time work is all classified as “neo-traditional”.

To ignore the economic realities that drive families to make decisions about work seems to me to be an immense oversight.  I have met plenty of stay at home mothers who were in very equitable marriages, and I have met quite a few working mothers whose primary source of stress was their husbands continued expectation that they were still responsible for all child care/household duties.  I believe that using only one metric to rank a marriage as “traditional” or “modern” is a horrible over generalization….especially since most women with small children would prefer to work part time.  In fact (from the Pew study):

The public is skeptical about full-time working moms. Just 14% of men and 10% of women say that a full-time job is the “ideal” situation for a woman who has a young child. A plurality of the public (44%) say a part-time job is ideal for such a mother, while a sizable minority (38%) say the ideal situation is for her not to work outside the home at all.

So 90% of women don’t think the “modern” setup is ideal when there are young children involved.  If one of these women than chooses to stay home with her kids, has her husband truly regressed from “modern” to “traditional”?

For both the economic reasons and the “women’s choice” reasons, I reject studies that try to tie stay at home motherhood to anything else.  The sample is just too broad, and the reasons too varied.  It also undermines exactly how expensive child care can be….by my estimate, my mom would have had to bring home at least $4000 a month (in today’s dollars)  to pay for child care for 4 children.  $4000 after tax is a pretty hefty before tax salary.

I don’t argue that personal life can affect professional attitudes, and I would never advocate for sexism in the workplace.  In this study however, I really had to question the motives.  Is it really the best idea to fight gender stereotypes with stereotypes about very broad choices?  Is the point here that the workplace will only be fair when women participate as much as men?  Isn’t it a bit sexist to totally disregard the role women play in the decision to work or not work?  Shouldn’t we all just be able to do what’s best for our families, no questions asked?

10 thoughts on “Sexism and stay at home moms

  1. All those progressive European women who are of course much more advanced than we are and we should imitate, are much less career-oriented than American women. Yes, even in Netherlands and Scandinavia, and among women with advanced degrees who hold all the proper attitudes: 1-2 children, pro gay marriage, prochoice, etc – they often switch to part-time and are quite pleased with it. By this study's definition they would not qualify as “modern.” Go figure.

    Humorously, Tracy and I would qualify as entirely modern by their standard. I think we might get kicked out of the club if they talked to us, though. Especially Tracy.


  2. Nice post, but seriously I got home and there was no dinner, the laundry wasn't done and the condo wasn't clean. Let's go with a little less modern and more traditional!


  3. Hey, at least I was barefoot and pregnant…and I totally figured out where to order take out from. Let's just call that “neo-traditional”.


  4. Thanks for the props, Bethany. I saw this study before you post and engaged in self-analysis – for about 2 seconds. I exhibit none of the traits they attributed to me and I don't think I am an outlier. Thanks for your perspective. Now go clean house and put your shoes back on!


  5. Europe is certainly interesting in all of this. Also, China…I sat next to a guy my age from Shanghai at the last conference I went to, and he was telling me that there, all women (in the college educated crowd) work. Due to the one child policy, they basically have two grandmothers who are retired who were thrilled to watch their one and only grandbaby. His wife thought it would be more trouble than it was worth to fight them for it. I doubt we'd say China is perfectly modern in how women get treated, but according to this they would be.

    It just seems bizarre to me to hang “modern” on one thing that's so very changeable based on circumstance. The goal of 100% labor force participation for women also creeped me out….does one of the authors own stock in a day care?


  6. “I doubt you could find anyone who would call my parent's marriage anything less than an equal partnership focused on doing what was best for the family.”…. and their school, and their church, etc. Good people, your folks.

    So if a man stays home, does that mean his wife is too traditional as well, with unenlightened views on men that could impact sexism in the workplace?


  7. well women can complain that they get hit with the childcare duties all they want but if the men should start taking over that shit then we better damn well get child custody in divorce.

    women are not meant for the workforce…they were created to be lovers, to nurture and be supportive all that shit….

    however in a financially hard marriage the woman getting a job is fine but there should NEVER be a marriage where both the man and the woman work full time and there should also never be a marriage where the man does not have a full time job. (put 2 and 2 together people)


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