The Harbinger Online

Gender Roles Evolve In Families


ifteen years ago, the Recker family had three kids under three years old, and a problem. With one parent working as a doctor and the other as a lawyer, they knew that one of them would have to stay home. There wasn’t enough time to raise their kids and have their careers.

It was either that, or hire someone to take care of the kids, which they didn’t want to do. So they made a decision. Neil Recker would stay home, leaving his career as an employee benefits lawyer and starting a new one as a stay-at-home dad.

“One of us needed to stay home, and I was just willing to do it,” Recker said. “My wife had a good job, and she was enjoying it.”

The traditional stereotype of a family, as seen in shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Mad Men”, is dad at work and mom at home with the kids. But the percentage of American families that are made up the traditional way has decreased to 20 percent in 2011. According to Dr. Jessica Hardie, assistant professor of Sociology at University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC), it’s by no means a large trend, but society is seeing a change in how families are put together.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of at-home dads has doubled from 2001 to 2011. The New York Times reports that around 626,000 men are primary caretakers of children under 15-years-old while their wives work.

Hardie says that the reason is mostly economic. There are less white-collar jobs that were traditionally filled by men, and more women are being highly educated. Fifty-seven percent of college students are women, according to USA Today. This results in a shift in the balance between genders in the workforce, making it so that women are holding more higher-paying jobs.

Hardie says that the number of jobs being outsourced are making it harder for to find high-paying, stable work in the U.S. She says that its not uncommon for women to be making the most money in a household and that makes the choice of which parent to stay home pretty simple.

“Younger men are more willing to rethink the idea of ‘career first, always,” Dr. Deborah Smith, interim department chair for UMKC’s Department of Sociology said. This redefinition of gender roles is a factor in the increasing number of at-home dads, Smith said.

According to Hardie, the decline of traditional high-paying jobs for men can be attributed to the fact that many jobs that used to support a family on their own, don’t anymore. A man with only a high school degree can’t support a family like he could in the past. President Obama stated in his State of the Union Address on Feb. 12 that someone working full-time at minimum wage earns $14,500 in a year.

Dr. Hardie points to an increase in jobs in fields that women are drawn to, like healthcare, as another reason that high-dollar employment for women has gone up.

When Recker grew up, there was no taking your kids to soccer practice; if you couldn’t get there on your own, you didn’t go. Nowadays, kids with full schedules can make parents busy driving kids around.

“All this stuff, it’s not like it starts at 6:00 at night or something. It starts at 3:00,” Recker said. “So how do you have a job and do those things?”

When it’s necessary for one parent to stay home with children, it doesn’t always mean that only one has to earn money. Hardie says that a lot of at-home dads find themselves working from home, on weekends or at night to make ends meet.

“There’s an increase in inflexible work, which means that companies are more likely to hire unskilled workers for a short period of time,” Hardie said. “And not really for steady employment.”

Federal statistics show that men lost two and a half times as many jobs in the recession as women, which also contributed to the rising number of dads turning caregivers. On top of that, between 1960 and today, the cost of raising a child has risen by 13 percent.

A round of layoffs from Sprint in 2001 left Larry Enochs, unemployed with three kids. After four jobs that were canceled before he could get hired, Enochs made the easy decision to pick the kids up from daycare and stay home with them. Then came another set of twins, which prolonged the stay-at home-dad routine.

Boston College studied the effects on children of having dad at home instead of mom. The men surveyed said, whether or not their kids were conscious of the different arrangement, that any effects were “mainly positive ones.”

“There were definite advantages of being able to do things that I never would’ve been able to do if we were both working,” Recker said. Recker was able to spend more time with his kids than he might have otherwise.

Both Enochs and Recker expressed a similar sentiment, saying there had to have been an effect. In the neighborhood where Enochs’ kids grew up, and at Briarwood Elementary, his daughters had several classmates who had at-home dads. With Recker, there were several other dads on the PTA at his kids’ school, some doing more for it than him.

“I definitely think they grew up knowing that a stay-at-home dad is not unusual,” Enochs said.

It’s hard to know if having dad at home instead of mom has any impacts on a growing child, but Dr. Hardie is hopeful that it will lead to better equality for everyone. She’s hopeful that young boys won’t look to their future and see their only path to fulfillment involving a career, and little girls see their potential for success.

“Hopefully it would be less constraining for boys and girls in terms of how they thought of themselves and their gender,”  Hardie said. “I don’t know if there’s been any research on that.”

In the meantime, both the Enochs and the Reckers will continue to raise their kids in the way that works for their family.

“It made sense for our family to do it that way,” Recker said. “ It seemed like the best way to go.”

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