The traditional family is dead, so we've been informed. It's been replaced by blended families, cohabitation, single-parent families, and, if the latest scientific controversy regarding mitochondrial DNA pans out, multiple biological parents for a single child.
It's not wrong to declare that the face of the American family is changing (even if most of the changes have been for the worse), but it may be overwrought. The only way to sing a dirge for the "traditional" family is to define it exceedingly narrowly -- and even then, it's not dead, just diminished. If you define "traditional" as a father working and mother not working outside the home, and 2.4 children (OK, kidding about the .4), then yes, only about 23 percent of families fit that model today. But if you broaden the definition a bit to include households in which one spouse, usually the husband, works full time and the other, usually the wife, works only part time in order to care for children, then you get a majority of married couples. Among parents of children younger than 6, married mothers are less likely to be working at all, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, making those families look very traditional indeed.
The mode for married parents today is supposed to be egalitarian -- that is, mom and dad sharing equally in the tasks of breadwinning, housework and child care. Remember the great hubbub about the rise of so-called breadwinner moms? That was much less than it appeared, a case of media exuberance untethered to facts. They counted, for example, single moms on welfare as "breadwinners," which is quite a stretch of the definition.
Examining married parents, Brad Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies, finds that most are following a "neo-traditional" pattern. Mothers do nearly 70 percent of the child care and housework in these households, while fathers do 65 percent of the breadwinning. Though scorned as outmoded, this pattern actually matches women's preferences. Fifty-three percent of married mothers say that part-time work is ideal, and another 23 percent prefer to be stay-at-home moms.
Surveys consistently find that women do much more housework than men, even in cohabitating relationships. Feminists howl at the injustice of it, and economists attempt to measure and quantify it. It's really no mystery. Men do less housework because they don't care! Is the sink getting rust stains around the drain? Are the potatoes in the pantry sprouting green shoots? Does the TV screen have fingerprints on it? How many men would notice, and what percentage of those would care?
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