The Relation Between the Wage Gap and the Leisure Gap

A debate still rages in social science research between two camps. One, represented by Gary Becker in his Economic Approach to Human Behavior, claims that wives do more housework because couples reason that “its good for everybody” if husbands focus on work, since they generally earn more. Womens greater work at home is thus part of a family strategy to maximize economic utility. Implicitly, he argues that this collective strat­egy involves little struggle and, indeed, has nothing to do with ideology or male privilege. The second camp, best represented by Joan Huber and Glenna Spitze in Sex Stratification, argues that such arrangements are as much cultural as they are economic. And according to their own massive study, it is the size of the wife’s paycheck and not the wage gap between spouses that influences the amount of work a husband does at home.

In search of an invisible “economic hand” that might explain why some couples do and some don’t share the work at home in imy own study, I set about dividing our fifty couples into three groups—high-wage gap (in which the husbands earned much more than the wives), middle-wage gap, and low-wage gap. I found no statistically significant relation be­tween the wage gap between husband and wife and the leisure gap.

To cross-check this finding, I reanalyzed a subsample of another sixty – five couples (both of whom worked full time and cared for children under age fifteen) drawn from a larger national study done by the Survey Re­search Center at the University of Michigan in 1981. (This was the same 1977 sample that showed the disappearing leisure gap.) I divided the cou­ples into four groups: the husband earned 75 percent or more of the total family income, between 55 and 75 percent, between 45 and 55 percent, and the wife earned more. I found that the less the wife earned (relative to her husband) the more housework she did. Women in group one con­tributed 72 percent of all the housework; in the second group, they con­tributed 66 percent; in the third, 55 percent; and in the fourth, 49 percent. Although women who earned more than their husbands did less housework, they did not have more leisure. The reason for this was that the /^-earning women who did more housework worked shorter hours, so they could do the housework and have more leisure. Still puzzled, I looked again at my own fifty couples, teased apart the low-wage-gap group, and discovered that—in contrast to the couples in the University of Michigan study—the women who outearned their husbands often did so because their husbands weren’t doing so well at work. (This may not have been the case for high-earning wives in the Michigan study.) Look­ing more closely, I discovered the principle of “balancing”—wives “mak­ing up” for doing “too well” at work by doing more at home.

Taking off from Huber and Spitze, then, I conclude that the leisure gap between wives and husbands reflects something more than these cou­ples’ pragmatic adaptation to the higher wages of American men—an in­terplay of gender strategy.

[1]2001 Statistical Abstracts Table No. 578: Labor Force Participation Roles for Wives, Husbands Present by Age of Own Youngest Child 1975 to 2000. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor, Table 6: Employment Status of Mothers with Own Children Under 3 Years Old by Single Year of Youngest Child and Marital Sta­tus, 2001-01 annual averages.

[2]According to the University of Michigan study, men s hours of paid work rose from 39.7 hours a week in 1990 to 44.5 hours in 1995. For women (and this is. working well as non-working women, so average hours are lower than they would be for just working women), hours of paid work rose from 24 in 1990 to 27 in 1995. (See Time Use Diary and Direct Reports, by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono, and Frank P. Stafford (Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, unpublished report. Tables 9 and 10, pp. 39-49.) Also see Families and the Labor Market, 1969-1999: Analyzing the Time Crunch, May 1999, Report by the Council of Economic Advi­sors, Washington, D. C. Also according to a 2000 report, 46 percent of workers work 41 hours or longer and 18 percent work 51 hours or longer. (See the Center for Sur­vey Research and Analysis, University of Connecticut, “2000 Report on U. S. Work­ing Time.”)

[3] Blue-collar workers in American small firms—where union membership is low— average seven days of paid vacation a year, and clerical and sales workers, nine.

[4] Paul Krugman, “The End of Middle-Class America (and the Triumph of the Plu­tocrats),” The New York Times Magazine у October 20, 2002, pp. 62-142.

[5]This is more true of white and middle-class women than it is of black or poor women, whose mothers often worked outside the home. But the trend I am talking about—:an increase from 20 percent of women in paid jobs in 1900 to 55 percent in 1986—has affected a large number of women.

[6] flip-flop all the time. One day I want to be superloving. I honestly feel Robert can contribute more than I can. He’s better educated. He’s just plain smarter. He’s genuinely gifted, and when he’s able to apply himself, he can really accomplish something, can make a name for himself. I care about him having time to think. One of the contributions I can make is allowing him to make a valuable contribution before I’m burned out. I tell him, “I want to take the pressure off of you. You don’t have to worry anymore about coming home at six. You don’t have to worry about taking care of the children in the evenings. You need more time to work on your trains.” I go through this long spiel. I’m going to play this incredible role.

Then when I come home at six-thirty, take care of the kids, cook dinner, go to bed, get woken up by the baby, I get totally exhausted. I can’t stand it anymore. Then I dump on him for not keeping up his 50 percent of the bargain, and causing me to feel so harassed all the time. He knows now this is just a

[7] fool people into thinking I take my work seriously. It’s not that I think males around me are more capable, or that their jobs are more meaningful. I just think it’s amazing that they take their work seriously. The work is not really helping anyone. It’s just a pile of paper with numbers on it. It’s not really real.

I envy people who are committed to what they’re doing. It’s almost like envying people with religion; they seem happier.

It’s strange; I expect men to go around taking their work very

[8] When she was nineteen, Anita married a musician in New Or­leans and after a year she had her daughter, Ruby. While her hus­band worked during the day and played his trombone four nights a week and on weekends, Anita stayed home with the baby. Feel­ing both dependent and neglected, she went back to work as a sec­retary, really for the adult company as much as for the money. Then, without consulting her, Anita’s husband decided to quit his daytime job in order to return to music school. This struck a cer­tain raw nerve. Not being consulted or warned, not being sup­ported, felt a lot like being abandoned. Her response was quick: she took the baby and left.

[9] don’t know whether I’m rationalizing in order to feel good about myself while I’m not working, or whether I’m on to the innermost truth. But I’ve changed my perspective. I’ve missed the sexy part of business, going out to lunch and talking about big deals, talking about things that “really mattered.” I lived like that for years. Only over the past few years have I realized how superficial that life really is. In the long run, what’s important is Daryl, Beverly, Greg, and my friends—some of those friends are work friends. These are who I will carry in my heart to the grave.

[10] realized I was going to sink in my mid-career review unless I published. So that fall when I was dashing around madly teaching and doing committee work during the week, I started working weekends. I worked through five weekends in a row, and Г11 never do it again. It was a complete disaster. My kids regressed a hundred and one paces. They were upset about being separated from me, because Michael was out of town at a conference and couldn’t take care of them. First I tried working in the study at home, but that was too hard. Then I went into my office, and that’s where I got a surprise. One of my colleagues said, “What brings you in?” And another said, “We haven’t seen you in all four years you’ve been here.” These are the guys who’ve said to me—I must have heard it fifteen times in my four years here—“You’ve got your husband to support you.” And when I meet them in the halls they always say, “How are the twins?”

[11] went through a period where I wasn’t really involving myself in a lot of housework—like most men, I have to admit. That’s

[12] said, “So were you doing some of the chores?”

[13]More white women are entering formerly “male jobs.” This may explain why white women just entering the job market in 1980 earned 83 percent of that earned by comparable white men. But the longer the two sexes stay on the job, the greater the wage gap. If the social class of each sex was determined solely on the basis of salary, benefits, and assets, the upper classes would be largely male and the lower classes largely female.

The Relation Between Ideology and Male Help at Home

I divided the fifty husbands I studied into three groups: those who shared the housework and child care (i. e., did 45 to 55 percent), those who did a moderate amount (30 to 45 percent), and those who did little (30 percent or less). Of all the traditional men, 22 percent shared, 44 percent did a moderate amount, and 33 percent did little. (These add up to 99 percent instead of 100 percent because percentages were rounded off.) Of all the transitional men, 3 percent shared, 10 percent did a moderate amount, and 87 percent did little. Of the egalitarian men, 70 percent shared and 30 percent did a moderate amount. The numbers are small but suggestive.

Ways of Seeing

Initially we contacted couples by distributing a short questionnaire on work and family life to every thirteenth name drawn from the personnel list of a large corporation. Fifty-three percent returned the questionnaire. At the end of this short questionnaire we explained what we were inter­ested in and asked if respondents would be willing to volunteer for an in-depth interview. To supplement our list, we later asked the people we interviewed for the names of neighbors and friends who were also two-job couples with children under six.

We asked men and women, “Can you tell me about your typical day?” We found that wives were much more likely to spontaneously mention something to do with the house; 3 percent of wives but 46 percent of hus­bands didn’t mention the house at all in their spontaneous description of a “typical day.” Three percent of the women and 31 percent of the men made no spontaneous mention" of doing something for a child—like brushing hair or fixing a meal.

Working mothers also more often mentioned caring for people within the larger family circle: their own parents, their husbands’ parents, rela­tives, neighbors, friends, baby-sitters. One woman made sandwiches every Saturday for the neglected children of a neighboring working couple. An­other helped her baby-sitter through a marital crisis. Another phoned daily to a relative bedridden with a back injury. Another made Christmas cookies for neighbors. Similarly, when gifts or phone calls came, they of­ten came from busy working mothers. Men, especially working-class men, were often generous about giving time to move furniture, repair cars, or build additions on houses. But in most of these families, the communal circle of informal help seemed to be based more solidly on the informal work of women.

We also noticed that men spoke about chores in a different way— more in terms of chores they “liked and disliked,” would do or wouldn’t do. Women more often talked about what needed doing.

Men and women also tell somewhat different stories about how much

each contributes. For example, 25 percent of husbands and 53 percent of wives answer that the wife “always” anticipates household needs. Some re­searchers have tried to avoid this sort of “subjective wart” on otherwise ob­jective findings—by taking one or the other persons word for what each partner docs. To avoid this source of bias, our solution was to acknowl­edge and use the problem of subjective bias by averaging the husbands and wife’s estimates of the amount of time each contributed to ‘the set of chores about which I asked them. The tasks fell into three categories: housework, parenting, and management of domestic life. Under house­work we included such things as putting out the garbage, picking up, vac­uuming, making beds, cleaning bathrooms, doing laundry, routine meal preparation, cleanup, grocery shopping, sewing, car repairs, lawn, house­hold repairs, care for houseplants, care for pets, dealing with the bank. Under child care we included both physical care of the child (tending a child while sick, feeding, bathing the child, taking the child to daycare or to doctors) and educating the child (for example, daily discipline, read­ing). Under management of domestic life we included remembering, planning, and scheduling domestic chores and events, which included such tasks as making up the grocery list, paying bills, sending birthday and holiday cards, arranging baby-sitting, and preparing birthday parties of the child.

We found that 18 percent of men shared the second shift in the sense of doing half of the tasks in all three categories. These 18 percent of men didn’t necessarily do half of the same tasks as their wives did; they did half of the tasks in each category overall (these 18 percent did 45 to 55 per­cent; none did more); 21 percent did a moderate amount (between 30 and 45 percent); and 61 percent did little (between 30 percent and none).

Characteristics of the Couples

Of the men we interviewed, the mean age was thirty-three, of the women, thirty-one. Forty-seven percent had one child, 38 percent had two, and 15 percent had three; no couple had more than three. As a whole, those we interviewed were disproportionately middle class. Twelve percent were blue-collar workers (craft workers, operatives, service workers), 17 percent clerical and sales, 25 percent managers and administrators, 46 percent professional and technical workers. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the United States as a whole in 1982, 44 percent were blue- collar workers, 25 percent were clerical or sales, 12 percent were managers and administrators, 17 percent were professional and technical workers, and 3 percent farmers. These add up to 101 percent due to rounding error.)

As for education, 6 percent of the people we interviewed had a high school education or less, 31 percent had some college, 19 percent had a B. A. or B. S., 12 percent had some graduate education, and 32 percent had graduate degrees. As for home ownership, only 2 percent already owned a home, 55 percent were in the process of buying one, and the rest rented. In this study, 8 percent of families had regular outside help, 13 percent had occasional help, and 79 percent had no help at all. (Nation­wide, 85 percent of all the families have no form of outside help.)

Working couples who are poorer—and especially the women in those couples—have it harder. In her 1986 dissertation on lower – and working – class Chicanas, Denise Segura reported that when she asked wives whether their husbands helped at home, they responded with “half smiles, painful silences, tensing of facial muscles and at times, outright laughter.” The problems of the second shift are probably nowhere resolved any bet­ter than in the couples we’ve studied here.

Seventy percent of our couples were white, 24 percent were black, 3 percent Chicano or Latino, and 3 percent Asian. Although I found more conservative attitudes among Chicanos, I found no difference between whites and Chicano men in their help at home. Nor did I find a difference between whites and blacks. (One of Joseph Pleck’s studies, 1982, showed a smaller weekly leisure gap among black husbands and wives—11 hours— than among whites—17 hours—but I didn’t find this.)

My Study: A Naturalistic Approach

Anne Machung and I interviewed 145 people altogether, two-thirds of them several times over. We interviewed 100 husbands and wives (50 two – job couples) and 45 other people, including baby-sitters, day-care workers, schoolteachers, traditional couples with small children, and divorcdes who had been in two-job couples. I did the in-depth observations of 12 fami­lies, and these families were selected from among the 50 couples in our study as good examples of common patterns we found. We supplemented the in-depth study with a quantitative analysis of all 50 families.

Research on Who Does the. Housework and Child Care. Ж

When I read Gwendolyn Salisbury Hughes’s description of women factory workers in Philadelphia after World War I doing laundry and washing their front steps on Saturday mornings, I was reminded of the stories I was hearing from women over sixty years later. But in 1918, when Gwendolyn Hughes was collecting her information, no one would have thought to do a survey comparing mens work at home with womens. Outside of a small social circle, in 1918 this comparison was hard to imagine.

In contrast, through the mid-1960s, 1970s, and 1980s there has been an explosion of research that compares working women to men in their relative contributions to the home. One of the largest time-use studies was conducted by John Robinson at the University of Michigan’s Survey Re­search Center. In his 1965 survey, published in 1977, Robinson gave the 1,244 men and women the so-called yesterday interview in which respon­dents were asked to remember on one day what they did the previous day. The study overrepresented urban, educated people. The same interview was conducted by Alexander Szalai in 1965-66 in twelve other countries in Western and Eastern Europe, including West Germany, Belgium, France, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yu­goslavia, and the former USSR.

A second major study, by Kathryn Walker and Margaret Woods, sam­pled 1,296 men and women (all married couples) living in Syracuse, New York, in 1967 (the report was published in 1976). Their methods differed from those of Robinson, but both found a large leisure gap between work­ing men and women. Both found that husbands of working wives do lit­tle more at home than husbands of housewives. Both found that husbands of working wives actually put in altogether fewer hours of work (paid

work combined with work at home) than did husbands of housewives— because husbands of working wives could now afford to cut back on their paid work. These husbands did proportionally more than husbands of housewives (25 percent versus 15 percent of home work) but that’s be­cause both spouses did less at home when the wife went out to work.

Are men doing more now? Studies done in the late 1970s and 1980s come up with mixed findings. Some studies find no increase. The 1977 nationwide “Quality of Employment” survey done by the University of Michigan combined the hours of paid and unpaid work men and women each do and found a daily leisure gap of 2.2 hours, about the same gap researchers found in the 1960s. Another study—this one in 1985— by Bradley Googins of Boston University’s School of Social Work, took as its subjects the 651 employees of a Boston-based corporation. Of these employees, the married mother averaged 85 hours a week on job, homemaking, and child care. The married father averaged 66 hours—a nineteen-hour-per-week leisure gap. In 1983, Grace Baruch and Rosalind Barnetts study of 160 middle-class Boston families found no difference in the help around the house between men whose wives worked and men whose wives didn’t. In her 1983 study of 1,500 white working couples, Shelley Coverman found that women did a total of 87 hours of paid and unpaid work while men did 76—leaving a leisure gap of 11 hours a week. In her 1981 study of professional women with children, Sara Yogev found a leisure gap of 30 hours.

In her 1977 study, Harriet Presser asked how much husbands in­creased their work at home after their wives took outside jobs. She found 44 percent of the husbands did more work at home, 45 percent did the same amount, and 11 percent actually did less. One study by Greg Dun­can and James Morgan (1978) presents some stark statistics on the extra hours of work marriage costs women and saves men. They reported hours of housework per year as follows: 1,473 for married women, and 886 for single women, 301 for married men, and 468 for single men. All of this evidence points to “no change.”

But other recent studies find a decrease in the leisure gap. One study— a replication of the earlier University of Michigan study by Robinson— found that women worked only a tiny bit longer than men each day. Between 1965 and 1975 Robinson and his coworkers found the leisure gap between men and women had virtually disappeared. Men weren’t do­ing more housework and childcare. Women were doing less, and putting in four to five hours less on the job as well. Rather than renegotiating roles with their husband, these wives pursued a strategy of cutting back at home and at work.

If this study is representative of women and men in the general popula­tion, then “cutting back”—not male sharing—is the new response to the strains of being a supermom. But I don’t believe this study is representative of the general population, and the researchers themselves were puzzled. During 1965 through 1975, when this study was done, hours of women’s paid labor did not shrink and the proportion of women part-timers did not increase in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Table 677), the proportion of women working part time was 19 percent in 1965, 22 percent in 1970,21 percent in 1975,21 percent in 1980, and 20 percent in 1982. In short, most women continued to work full time. The proportion who worked part time didn’t change between 1965 to 1982.

But the hours at work of women in this study did decline, and the decline was probably an artifact of the researchers’ method. In hopes of improving the accuracy of their study, the researchers periodically reinter­viewed the same respondents at different times of day. So detailed and re­peated were the questions in this study that about a quarter of the people dropped out of it—among them, presumably, the busiest. Ironically, the women most burdened by the very crunch the researchers were investi­gating probably didn’t have time to fill out such a lengthy questionnaire.

Observing the findings of this study, Joseph Pleck cautiously hailed the day when the problem of the leisure gap would pass. But the fact is, for most women that day has not come. Even if all women could iron out the leisure gap by working part time, is part-time work a solution if it’s just for women? Given the increasing danger of marginalizing family life, I be­lieve it’s important to offer and legitimate well-paid part-time jobs (see Chapter 17), but for men as well. I think it would be a mistake to settle for part-time work “just for women.” This division of labor would lead to economic and career inequities between men and women, which would make women economically vulnerable in an age in which half of mar­riages don’t last. A better solution might be to share the part-time option or alternate part-time phases of each spouse’s work life.


Since the publication of The Second Shift, Greg Alston no longer plays scary jokes on his son Daryl to toughen him up. But the Liv­ingstons have separated and the Judsons have divorced. Cary Liv­ingston, now three, lives mainly with her mother, though her father wants desperately to remain involved. Ray Judson sees Erik and the baby every two weeks, and Ruby if she’s around.

A Gender Strategy for the Nation

Brought to America by the tradition of the European Enlighten­ment, the belief in human progress easily fit the open American frontier, the expanding national and international economy, and the movements for racial and gender equality. Like most Ameri­cans over at least two centuries, most of the men and women I in­terviewed for this study said they believed “things were getting better.” They said they believed men “are doing more at home than before.” In small measure, this is true.

But the young do not promise to usher in a new era. Corpora­tions have done litde to accommodate the needs of working par­ents, and the government has done little to prod them. The nuclear family is still the overwhelming choice as a setting in which to rear children. Yet we have not invented the outside sup­ports the nuclear family will need to do this job well. Our revolu­tion is in danger of staying stalled.

Certainly this is what has occurred in the former Soviet Union, the other major industrial society to draw a majority of its child­bearing women into the labor force. Since industrialization, Soviet women had worked outside the home and done the lions share of the second shift too. “You work?” the Soviet joke went. “You’re liberated.” A stalled revolution has been mistaken for the whole revolution. And some commentators in the former USSR argued that there, too, the extra burden on working mothers is behind the rising rate of divorce.5

As more women enter the labor force, will the divorce rate rise in China? In Japan? In India? In Australia? Cultures differ, but this fundamental problem is the same.

Can we do better than this? The answer depends on how we make history happen. Just as individuals have gender strategies, so do governments, corporations, schools, factories, and mens clubs. How a nation organizes its work force and daycare centers, how its schools train the young, reflects the work and family roles it en­visions for each sex.

While we hear much rhetoric about families, we hear very lit­tle talk about government policies that would actually help them. Indeed, comparatively speaking, we are a backward society. In 1993 President Clinton signed the historic Family and Medical Leave Act that gave workers the right to twelve weeks of leave for a new baby or a family medical emergency. But that left out the roughly 50 percent of workers employed in companies with fewer than 50 workers. It didn’t apply to part-time workers, most of whom are women, and the leave isn’t paid.

After giving birth, a German mother receives fourteen weeks of leave at full pay. Italian mothers receive twenty weeks at full pay. In 2002, Canadian mothers won the right to take a full year off from work after childbirth at 60 percent pay. Mothers in Nor­way can take a year at 80 percent pay. Worldwide, 127 coun­tries—including virtually every industrial nation—mandate some sort of paid family leave. But in the U. S., the richest nation in the world, working parents are not guaranteed a penny of paid leave to stay home with a newborn baby. In 2002, twenty-seven states have started the uphill battle to institute paid leaves. As I write, the California governor has just signed a bill enabling new work­ing mothers to take six weeks of leave at 55 percent of their salary up to $728 a week. But neither companies nor the government contribute to these leaves.

An honestly profamily policy in the United States would offer paid parental leave to parents—married, single, gay, or lesbian— of natural or adoptive children, and paid “care leave” to tend the elderly. Through comparable worth, it would pull up wages in “womens” jobs. It would go beyond half-time work (which makes it sound like a person is only doing “half” of something else that is “whole”) by instituting lower-hour, more flexible “family phases” for all regular jobs filled by parents of young children.

The government would give tax credits to developers who build affordable housing near places of work and shopping cen­ters, with nearby meal-preparation facilities, as Dolores Hayden describes in her book Redesigning the American Dream. It would create warm and creative daycare centers. If the best day care comes from elderly neighbors, students, grandparents, they could be paid to care for children. Traveling vans for day-care enrichment could roam the neighborhoods as the ice-cream man did in my child­hood.

In these ways, the American government could create a “safer environment” for the two-job family. It could draw men into chil­drens lives, reduce the number of children in “self-care,” and make marriages happier. These reforms could even improve the lives of children whose parents divorce, because research has shown that the more involved fathers are with their children be­fore divorce, the more involved they are with them afterwards. If the government encouraged corporations to consider the long – range interests of workers and their families, they would save on long-range costs due to higher incidence of absenteeism, turnover, juvenile delinquency, mental illness, and welfare support for sin­gle mothers.

These are the real profamily reforms. If they seem “utopian” today, we should remember that in the past, the eight-hour day, the abolition of child labor, and the vote for women once seemed utopian too. Among top-rated employers listed in The Hundred Best Companies to Work for in America, many offer country-club memberships, first-class air travel, and million-dollar fitness cen­ters. Only a handful offer job sharing, flex time, or part-time work. Not one provides on-site day care and only three offer child-care deductions—Control Data, Polaroid, and Honeywell are excep­tions. In his book Megatrends, John Naisbitt reported that 83 per­cent of corporate executives believed that more men feel the need to share the responsibilities of parenting; yet only 9 percent of cor­porations offer paternity leave.

Public strategies are linked to private ones. Economic and cul­tural trends bear on marital tensions in ways it would be useful for families to understand, and we need to apply an interpretation of marriage that highlights the links between the two. When I talked with Nancy Holt about working two jobs and raising a child at this period in history, I talked about “the uneven rate of change,” about the greater difference between her life and her mothers than that between Evans and his father’s. We discussed the differ­ences between her gender ideology and Evans. We explored the cautionary tales that might be holding each version of manhood and womanhood in place. I pointed out her strategies—a sharing showdown, cutting back at work—and I named Evans—resist­ance. We discussed how Nancy’s resentment at Evan’s refusal to share the second shift might have emerged in how she handled Joey. We explored how the give and take of credit for each part­ner’s contributions to the second shift created imbalances in their marital economy of gratitude. The questions I asked the Holts are only a start in exploring how family life is situated in a wider cir­cle of influence; such questions begin what for each couple would have to be a long, careful look in the cultural mirror.

The happiest two-job marriages I saw were between men and women who did not load the former role of the housewife-mother onto the woman, and did not devalue it as one would a bygone “peasant” way of life. They shared that role between them. What couples called “good communication” often meant that they were good at saying thanks for one tiny form or another of taking care of the family. Making it to the school play, helping a child read, cooking dinner in good spirit, remembering the grocery list, tak­ing responsibility for the “upstairs.” These were the silver and gold of the marital exchange. Up until now, the woman married to the “new man” has been one of the lucky few. But as the government and society shape a new gender strategy, as the young learn from example, many more women and men will be able to enjoy the leisurely bodily rhythms and freer laughter that arise when family life is family life and not a second shift.

Future Nancy Holts?

As I drive from my office at the University of California, Berkeley, across the Oakland Bay Bridge to my home in San Francisco, I of­ten compare the couples I have been studying to the students I teach. Who will step into the biography of Nancy Holt? Who will be the new Nina Tanagawa? The Jessica Stein? The Adrienne Sherman? The Ann Myerson? And which of the men will be like Art Winfield? Like John Livingston? Like Ray Judson? Will my students eventually rear children like Joey Holt, Alexandra Tana­gawa, Victor and Walter Stein, Adam Winfield? Will it be easier for the younger generation in two-job families? Has the turmoil of the 1970s and early 1980s been a temporary phase in prepara­tion for a new kind of marriage in the future? Or will my students also live in a revolution that is stalled?

I wonder about all this as I talk with students in my office at 464 Barrows Hall on the Berkeley campus. Nearly all of my women students badly want lifelong careers. In this they are typi­cal of students more generally. An American Council of Educa­tion survey of 200,000 freshmen at more than 400 campuses in March 1988 asked students to name their probable career. Less than 1 percent of women answered “full-time homemaker.”1 In my office, only a handful confide that “all they want” is to be a homemaker, offering long, hesitant explanations for why they would conceivably want to stay home, as if these days this choice for a college woman called for a social version of a medical excuse.

In a 1985-86 survey of University of California, Berkeley, sen­iors, Anne Machung found that over 80 percent of senior women thought it was “very important” to have a career. At the same time, 80 percent definitely planned to marry or be in a committed part­nership, and another 17 percent hoped to be in one. They planned to have two or three children at most, and to have them later in life than their mothers did. Most planned to interrupt their careers from one to five years to have the children but they didn’t think this would disadvantage them at work.2 The students I teach fit this description too. When I show my students a picture of the woman with the flying hair, briefcase in one hand, child in the other, they say she is “unreal,” but they want to be just like her.

Even for the most exceptional women, the contradictions be­tween work and family are very real. And my students know it.

Many know it from their mothers struggles, and sometimes from their divorces. But, faced with a contradiction and a cultural cover – up, they feel afraid. They applaud the new opportunities at work. They are scandalized by the inequities that remain. But when it comes to matters at home, a distant, vague, distracted look comes into their eyes, and suddenly they become hesitant and inconclu­sive. They plan to put marriage off. They plan to go slow. If they have a steady boyfriend, they don’t talk about how they will share the work at home in the future. That’s “too far ahead.” At the ac­tual problems of holding down a demanding job and raising young children, they don’t dare look. I don’t believe they don’t know the problems. These are intelligent, inquiring women. I think they are avoiding a close look because it scares them. It isn’t just one or two young women who avoid it; there seems to be a collective de­cision not to look. For all the media attention given the working mother, young women are not asking what major changes we need to make the two-job family work well.

If Nancy Holt and many women in this book reacted against their mothers’ frustrations at the life of an unfulfilled housewife, many of my women students today, eighteen to twenty-two, are reacting against their mothers’ frustration at being oppressed work­ing mothers. To many young women, the working mother is the new ideal. But she is also the new cautionary tale.

Many young men and women grew up inside busy, strained two-job families. When I ask them about the advantages of hav­ing grown up in a two-job family, they mention the education, the family vacations, the financial needs their parents’ wages met. And they generally agree with the student who said: “It’s sure made me self-reliant. I can cook by myself, do my homework without prodding. I wouldn’t be so independent if my mom had been home all the time.” When I ask them about the disadvan­tages, they sometimes recall a bad memory, like this one: “When I was ten, I had to come home and empty the ashtrays and make the salad for dinner and start my homework in the house alone. I survived, but I hated it.” Or another: “My mother was always on the go, and my dad worked long hours. I don’t feel like I really got to know either of them until I got to college.” When asked to put the advantages and disadvantages together, both men and women felt the advantages won; they want to have two-job families, too, but somehow not in the same way..

Beneath their private fear of becoming an oppressed working mother, young women are also anxious about the whole stalled revolution. The old way of being a woman in a patriarchal but sta­ble family system is fading. (The parents of nearly half of my stu­dents have divorced.) But a new equal relationship with men at work and at home is not yet in reach.

Bracing for the plunge into adulthood, most of these young students are turning away from Carmen Delacorte’s model of womanhood, but not reaching out with any confidence to Adri­enne Shermans. Most of my women students—at the University of California, the heartland of student revolt in the 1960s—are wistful for a fifty-fifty marriage, but don’t think they’ll get it. Raised as babies in families who struggled over the second shift, they are weary of marital wars. They accept the goals of the revo­lution but approach them pragmatically, timidly, fatalistically, in the spirit of the “stall.” They are poised to step into the biography of Nancy Holt.

Next to the experience of their own working mothers, what most affects their views on marriage is their exposure to divorce. It makes some young women more traditional. As one described: “In her first marriage, my mother really pushed to be equal with my dad. That just led to horrible arguments. In her second mar­riage, she’s staying home. She just says, ‘Yes, dear. . . yes, dear’ and things are calmer. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I know I don’t want a marriage like her first but I can’t see myself in a mar­riage like her second.” Most daughters of divorce don’t want to “get caught” unprepared. As one nineteen-year-old student ex­plained to me: “My mother worked as a freelance graphic designer and it was she who took care of my brother and me. She didn’t earn much for her work, so after the divorce, her income plummeted and she got really depressed. Meanwhile my dad got remarried. When I called my dad to tell him how depressed she was, he just said she should get a job.” If a woman lets go of her place at work to care for a family, she can “get caught.” So some women may creep cautiously into the biography of Anita Judson, the billing clerk and mother of three who kept on working to be prepared “just in case.”

What goes for college-educated women and men goes even more, I think, for high school-educated young people. If privi­leged women openly embrace the supermom image, other women are forced into it out of necessity, as were many of their mothers before them. The problems middle-class women face are doubled in the working class. Blue-collar women are likely to marry blue – collar men, who are the most vulnerable to economic fluctuations caused by the current crisis in American industry. Less-educated women are more likely to defer to their husbands’ jobs; one 1986 national study found that 53 percent of women with no high school education, in contrast to 25 percent of women college graduates, believe “that it is more important for a wife to support her husbands career than to have a career herself.”3 Unlike upper – middle-class women, they will nonetheless have to work, and wont be able to buy themselves out of strains of the second shift.

And how about young men? Are they planning to share the work at home with working wives? In a 1986 study of Berkeley seniors, 54 percent of the women and 13 percent of the men ex­pected to be the one who would miss an important meeting at work for a sick child. Sixty-nine percent of the women and 38 percent of men expected to share the laundry work equally. Fifty percent of women and 31 percent of the men expected to share cooking.4 A survey by Catalyst found that halfot the women plan to put the husband s job first, but two-thirds of the men said they planned to put their own job first.

In a 1985 in-depth study of Berkeley seniors, Anne Machung asked undergraduate men if they expected to marry a woman who held a job outside the home. “She can work if she wants,” most answered. When asked if they would be willing to marry a woman who wanted them to do half the housework and child care, one man answered, “Yes, I could always hire someone.” Another an­swered, “It would depend on how much I liked her and how she asked.” A number of them didn’t want “lists.” Among the young as well, women seem to be changing faster than men.