In some ways, a combination of social trends is actually moving us farther away from a solution, while a change in male attitude seems at the same time to be moving us forward—until recently.
Since this book first appeared, the proportion of couples who work two jobs has increased. At the same time, the workweek has lengthened and the issue of family-friendly policies continues to be absent from the national, and to some extent the corporate, agenda.
In 1975, 47 percent of all American mothers with children under age eighteen worked for pay, and by 2000, the rate had risen to 73 percent. This upward trend applied to mothers of children age six and under as well: in 1990, 49 percent of married mothers with children six and under were in the labor force, while in 2001 the percentage had risen to 63 percent, and for single mothers, it was a bit more—from 49 percent to 70 percent. But the most remarkable change in the last decade has been in the growing proportion of working mothers with very small children. In 1975, 34 percent of mothers of children age three and under were doing paid work, and in 2000, this had risen to 61 percent. Mothers of children age one and under who were in the labor force also rose from 31 percent in 1975 to 58 percent in 2000. And for those mothers of three – and one-year-olds who do work, two thirds do so full time.1 The Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn’t tracked fathers of three – and one-year-olds the way it tracks mothers. And the male employment rate has been slowly dropping over the last thirty years, but for older men, not young dads in their twenties and thirties.
So young parents are facing a real challenge, especially when they have to look after both small children and elderly parents. And its not as if the wife’s salary is totally optional; these days both his salary and hers just about total what a man’s salary used to bring in when it was based on union wages in a robust manu –  facturing sector. In a sense, womens work is a way the family has absorbed the deindustrialization of America and the decline in mens wages.
And to make matters worse, through the 1990s, the number of hours worked rose. According to a recent International Labor Organization report on work hours over the last decade, Americans now put in two weeks longer at work each year than their counterparts in Japan, the vaunted workaholism capital of the world. While German working families enjoy a month-long paid vacation, Americans average sixteen days, and a quarter of Americans take no vacation at all. Even when working parents try hard to hold the line on work, the work world itself seems to be expanding. As one legal secretary and single mother of two explained, “I’ve worked half time at this company for ten years. But what counted as part-time ten years ago was 20 hours. Today I’m lucky if I can get away with ЗО. I figure I might as well get paid full time.”
At the same time, what we might call a couple’s fail-back system is now subject to geographic chance and national neglect. Many couples do enjoy close ties to nearby relatives and neighbors, but then an aunt who might have been counted on thirty years ago to watch a child after school may these days be working herself. And our national policies don’t make up for this. The long paid parental leave that is part of national custom in such countries as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland—52 weeks paid leave at 80 percent salary for a new mother or father in Norway, for example—is not yet thinkable in the U. S. Given the increasing numbers of working moms, the longer hours, and the absence of outside support, it is small wonder that the second shift remains a marital flash point today.