TIME magazine just published a special report, "The State of the American Woman." The Rockefeller Foundation, in collaboration with TIME, conducted a landmark survey of gender issues to assess how individual Americans are reacting. What they wanted to know was whether the battle of the sexes was really over, and if so, did anyone win? I guess it depends on how you define winning, because one of the more challenging aspects of this report is what was said about women's happiness:
Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy. No tidy theory explains the trend, notes University of Pennsylvania economist Justin Wolfers, a co-author of The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. "We looked across all sectors — young vs. old, kids or no kids, married or not married, education, no education, working or not working — and it stayed the same," he says of the data.
This has also been reported elsewhere. For example, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote an op/ed piece in September about the same trend, titled "Blue is the New Black." These media reports have in common the Wharton study released in May titled, "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness." In my opinion, the Wharton study uncovered one important reason for declining female happiness in an age that upended what feminist Betty Friedan saw as the problem back in 1963: the trapped housewife syndrome. Now that women are no longer bound by what Friedan saw as the primary problem of women, you'd think we'd all be happier. But the Wharton study noted the emotional ties to home still affect women:
Arlie Hochschild’s and Anne Machung’s The Second Shift (1989) argued that women’s movement into the paid labor force was not accompanied by a shift away from household production and they were thus now working a “second shift”. However, time use surveys do not bear this out. Aguiar and Hurst (2007) document relatively equal declines in total work hours since 1965 for both men and women, with the increase in hours of market work by women offset by large declines in their non-market work. Similarly, men are now working fewer hours in the market and more hours in home production. Blau (1998) points to the increased time spent by married men on housework and the decreased total hours worked (in the market and in the home) by married women relative to married men as evidence of women’s improved bargaining position in the home. However, it should be noted that the argument went beyond counting hours in The Second Shift. Women, they argued, have maintained the emotional responsibility for home and family: a point that is perhaps best exemplified by the familiar refrains of a man “helping” around the house or being a good dad when “babysitting” the kids. Thus even if men are putting in more hours, it is difficult to know just how much of the overall burden of home production has shifted, as measuring the emotional, as well as physical, work of making a home is a much more difficult task.
Though the goal of second-wave feminism was to severely diminish the importance of home--the private sphere of our important relationships--it is clear that this isn't possible because the feminine capacity for nurturing and bearing life still courses through us. That's not to say we don't enjoy other tasks and goals outside of the home. It means that the simplistic approach to modeling women's life structures after men's is ridiculously stressful. The home does matter and the relationships nurtured there do carry a priority.
In fact, you can see this is the results of the Rockefeller/TIME poll. The theme of relationships courses throughout the poll and dominates the issue of priorities:
- Being married is very important to 58% of men vs. 53% of women.
- Men and women largely agree on the importance of most life goals. The biggest difference in life goals? Fifty-eight percent of men describe religious faith as very important vs. 68% of women.
- There's a definition perception gap at work: TIME reports that 69% of women think men resent women who have more power than they do; only 49% of men agree. But only 29% of men say that female bosses are harder to work for than male bosses, compared with 45% of women.
- More than a third of men over age 65 say that with the rise of women in society and the workplace, men no longer know their role vs. 25% of men ages 18 to 29.
- In the 1970s, a majority of children grew up with a stay-at-home parent; now that figure is less than a third. A large majority — 70% of men, 61% of women — believe this has had a negative effect on society. Fifty-seven percent of men and 51% of women agree that it is better for a family if the father works outside the home and the mother takes care of the children. Asked to rank what they value most for their own daughters, 63% of men and 56% of women put a happy marriage with children first; 17% of men and 23% of women said an interesting career; and 15% of men and 20% of women said financial success.
If a happy marriage and children is the highest priority for more than half of those surveyed, then I believe we need to be more intentional about helping our culture achieve those goals. The timeless truth of the Bible still speaks to us today and we who know the Word should not shrink back from leading others to learn it.