Men Who Do. and Men Who Don’t
ne out of five men in this study were as actively involved in the home as their wives—some were like Greg Alston, working the same hours as their wives but sharing in a more t(male” way, doing such things as carpentry; others, like Art Winfield, shared the cooking and being a primary parent. In my study the men who shared the second shift had a happier family life, so I wanted to know what conditions tend to produce such men. How do men who share differ from other men?
The men in this study who shared the work at home were no more likely than other men to have “model” fathers who helped at home. Their parents were no more likely to have trained them to do chores when they were young. Michael Sherman and Seth Stein both had fathers who spent little time with them and did little work around the house. But Michael became extremely involved in raising his twin boys, whereas Seth said hello and goodbye to his children as he went to and from his absorbing law practice. Sharers were also as likely to have had mothers who were homemakers or who worked and tended the home as nonsharers.
Wives of men who shared eagerly offered complex psychological explanations for why their husbands were so “unusual.” Yet each story differed totally from the next. For example, one woman explained:
Jonathan has always been extremely involved with the children. I think its because he grew up the son of Jews who survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Canada after World War Two. He never felt a part of Canadian society, he always felt like an outsider. I think thats why he never bought into conventional sex roles either. His mother worked day and night running a grocery store, so he rarely saw her. She didn’t like kids anyway; he was brought up by his grandmother.
But another wife offered this explanation for her husband’s willingness to share: “Dwight is unusually involved at home because his father was away so much in the navy, and his mother stayed home to take care of the kids by herself. I think it was seeing her handle all that by herself that made him want to share, and I thank his mother for training him.”
The “upbringing stories” of the wives of these unusual men often focused on the impact of their husband’s mother. But the only recurring theme I could discover had to do with the son’s disaffiliation from a detached, absent, or overbearing father. John Livingston’s father, as he sadly described him, was a recluse who sat talking to no one most evenings. Michael Sherman’s father praised him for getting good grades, then lost interest in him between report cards. Art Winfield’s biological father disappeared entirely. Many men had bad memories of their fathers, but the men who ended up sharing childcare differentiated themselves from their fathers; seeing them as negative role models, they vowed not to be like them. The most involved father—Art Winfield, the father who played with the children at his adopted son’s daycare class— was both disenchanted with his real father, a “bad” model of fatherhood, and ardently devoted to his kindly stepfather, a “good” model of fatherhood. What seemed important was the combination of how a man identified with his father and what that father was like—not how much the father had helped around the house. But many people believed that it was “upbringing”—how much a man helped around the house as a boy—that made the difference.1 Evan Holt, who did his hobbies “downstairs” while his wife cared for the house “upstairs,” said he was just acting the way he was “brought up” to act. Evan didn’t do many other things he was brought up to do, like go to church, avoid using credit cards, or wait to have sex until after marriage. In these areas of life he was his own man. But around the house, he said he was just doing what his mother taught him. In other words, “upbringing” seemed to be a rationale to cover a strategy. In turn, strategies are propelled by motives that need explaining.
Apart from what a man wants for himself, apart from his will or strategy, or notions of manhood, I would guess that men who shared at home shared a certain psychological predisposition. I would guess that men like Art Winfield and Michael Sherman have two characteristics in common: they are reacting against an absent or hostile father, and they generalize from this reaction to mens roles in general. At the same time, they have sufficiently identified with some male, and can thus feel safe empathizing with their mothers without fear of becoming “too feminine.”
Did the men who shared the work at home love their wives more? Were they more considerate? Its true, egalitarian men had more harmonious marriages, but I would be reluctant to say that men like Peter Tanagawa or Ray Judson loved their wives less than men like Art Winfield or Michael Sherman, or were less considerate in other ways. One man who did very little at home said, “Just last week I suddenly realized that for the first time I feel like my wife’s life is more valuable than mine, because my son needs her more than he needs me.” Men who shared were very devoted to their wives; but, in a less helpful way, so were the men who didn’t.
Two other, more external factors also did not distinguish men who did share from men who didn’t: the number of hours they worked or how much they earned. Husbands usually work a longer “full-time” job than wives. But in the families I studied, men who worked fifty hours or more per week were just slightly less likely to share housework than men who worked forty-five, forty, or thirty-five hours a week. In addition, fifty-hour-a-week women did far more child care and housework than men who worked the same hours. Other national studies also show that the number of hours a man works for pay has little to do with the number of hours he works at home.2
Of all the factors that influence the relations between husbands and wives, I first assumed that money would loom the largest. The man who shared, I thought, would need his wife’s salary more, would value her job more, and as a result also her time.
American wives in two-job couples average one dollar for every three their husbands earn, and this average prevailed among the families I studied too. Often, among the couples I studied, a man who works a job from the top rung of a “dual labor market” is married to a woman who does a job from the bottom of it—an executive married to a secretary, a dentist to a dental assistant, a doctor to a nurse, a pilot to a flight attendant. Economically speaking, most husbands have the more important job.
I assumed that the man who shares would not earn more, and that the wage gap between other husbands and wives might cause the leisure gap between them. Both spouses might agree that because his job came first, his leisure did too. Leaving child care aside (since most men would want to do some of that), I assumed that men who earned as much or less than their wives would do more housework. I assumed that a woman who wanted fifty-fifty in the second shift but had married a high-earning man would reconcile herself to the family’s greater need for her husband’s work, set aside her desires, and work the extra month a year. By the same token, a traditional man married to a high-earning woman would swallow his traditional pride and pitch in at home. I assumed that money would talk louder than ideals, and invisibly shape each partner’s gender strategy
If money is the underlying principle behind men s and women s strategies, that would mean that no matter how much effort a woman put into her job, its lower pay would result in less help from her husband at home. Research about on-the-job stress (noted in Chapter 9 on Ray and Anita Judson) suggests that jobs in the low-level service sector, where women are concentrated, cause more stress than blue – and white-collar jobs, where men are concentrated. Although working mothers don’t work as long hours as working fathers, they devote as much effort to earning money as men, and many women earn less for work that’s more stressful. Thus, by using his higher salary to “buy” more leisure at home, he inadvertently makes his wife pay indirectly for an inequity in the wider economy that causes her to get paid less. If money is the key organizing principle to the relations between men and women in marriage, it’s a pity, for men because it puts their role at home at the mercy of the blind fluctuations of the marketplace and for women because if money talks at home, it favors men. The extra month a year becomes an indirect way in which the woman pays at home for economic discrimination outside the home.