Acceptance of working mothers is at an all-time high, according to researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU) who analyzed surveys from both teens and adults taken over the last several decades. When it comes to marriage roles, however, a small but growing percentage of today’s teens believe that it is the man’s responsibility to take care of the family financially, compared to teens two decades ago.
For the study, researchers looked at data from nearly 600,000 respondents from two nationally representative surveys taken between 1976 and 2013. The goal of the surveys — one of U.S. 12th graders and the other of adults — was to understand how attitudes towards women’s work and family roles have changed since the 1970s.
They found that millennials are significantly more accepting of working mothers than previous generations were at the same age. Only 22 percent of 12th graders in the 2010s believed that a pre-school aged child would suffer if their mother worked, down from 34 percent in the 1990s and 59 percent in the 1970s.
“This goes against the popular belief that millennials want to ‘turn back the clock’, or that they are less supportive of working moms because their own mothers worked. Instead they are more supportive,” said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at SDSU and author of “Generation Me” who is one of the lead authors of the study.
“This suggests a growing gender equality and more acceptance of others’ choices. Both are consistent with a culture placing more emphasis on individualism, or more focus on the self and less on social rules,” said Twenge.
A similar trend appeared among adult respondents. In 1977, 68 percent of U.S. adults surveyed believed “a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works,” compared to 42 percent in 1998 and 35 percent in 2012.
“In recent years, Americans have become much more supportive of men and women holding the same roles and responsibilities in the workplace as well as in child-rearing,” said lead researcher Kristin Donnelly, who was a graduate student at SDSU when the research was conducted and is now pursuing her Ph.D. at SDSU.
“These results suggest a convergence onto a common gender role for both genders as equal parts provider and caretaker, flexibly switching between the two without regard for traditionally gendered conceptions of duty.”
Researchers were surprised to also find a growing minority of millennials who hold men and women to more traditional roles within marriage. For example, 32 percent of 12th graders in 2010-2013 agreed that it is best for the man to work and the woman to take care of the family, compared to 27 percent in 1995-1996. Seventeen percent agreed that the husband should make the important family decisions in 2010-2013, up from 14 percent 1995-96
“Millennials might see marriage as only for certain types of people,” said Twenge. “With the marriage rate at an all-time low, today’s young people may believe that marriage is a traditional choice involving more rigid gender roles.”
Source: San Diego State University