Men still have careers and women do housework

Men still have careers and women do housework

Ene important question in sociology is whether society is more interested in the emergence of the new or in persisting in the old. Does what stays the same say more about society than what changes? And why don’t certain things change, even though society often wants it and many are working on it? For example, the division of labor in a young family: the fact that dad goes to work and mom takes care of the household and the children corresponds to a long-outdated understanding of roles in the 1950s.

But sociological research confirms it again and again: Obviously, an event like the birth of the first child leads back into these seemingly outdated patterns. Most new fathers stay in work while mothers interrupt their careers in favor of the child. Does that still apply to the youngest generation of parents in this country? Shouldn’t there be a gradual change towards a convergence of the career paths of fathers and mothers? After all, there has been relevant legislation since the 2000s, such as the introduction of parental allowance or the expansion of part-time employment, which expressly opposed the traditional structures in the gender-specific division of labor.

Nadiya Kelle, Laura Romeu Gordo and Julia Simonson have been able to close this research gap with data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). They examined how the partnership constellations in the three birth cohorts 1970 to 1974, 1975 to 1979 and 1980 to 1984 changed. They expected that women from the youngest cohort, who are now around 40 years old, would spend more time working as mothers and that the fathers would spend more time at home with their children. The SOEP data confirm this assumption – but only in part and with significant limitations. Because even if the traditional constellation, in which he works and she takes care of the child at home during parental leave, dominates in all three cohorts in the first 36 months after the start of parental leave, it decreases slightly, at least among the younger ones.

Empirically, this is expressed by the fact that the oldest couples in the study had spent just over 23 months (of three years) in this status, while the ten-year-old couples had just under 17 months. Nevertheless, it remains the dominant form of partnership-based division of labor after birth. Accordingly, there is no convergence of employment arrangements.

Upheavals, pauses and new beginnings

Perhaps the effects of the family policy measures of the 2000s only become apparent in the younger parents, i.e. those who were born in the 1990s. But for the time being, according to the authors, the younger cohorts who were born in the 1980s, like the older cohorts, experience a “retraditionalization” of employment histories with the transition to parenthood. It can hardly be observed that fathers would limit their employment in favor of parental leave or greater involvement in household chores. What has increased is the discontinuous employment history after parenthood, for example that both partners are not registered as unemployed for a while. However, these convergences can be traced back more to increasing employment discontinuities and less to family and social policy interventions. So what is aligning are uncertainties in the world of work, the upheavals, breaks and new beginnings.

So why does so little change in families? Because it is “rational from the perspective of human capital theory” that the woman renounces the reconciliation of work and family in favor of the child. According to the authors, it is rational because the men still earn more and it can damage their chances of advancement if they work part-time because of the child. Given that this rationality tends to compel men to conform to a traditional role model, one could speculate that they may belong to the last generation willing to make this adjustment. Should today’s 40-year-olds take on the leadership positions in their professional world themselves, they could ultimately also promote the career paths of men who work part-time with their expectations. That would really be something new.


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