Friday, October 17, 2008

equally shared parenting

the new york times published an interesting piece - on father's day - about the division of labor in two parent families. the ideal of "equally shared parenting" is described as
[Both parents] would work equal hours, spend equal time with their children, take equal responsibility for their home. Neither would be the keeper of the mental to-do lists; neither of their careers would take precedence. Both would be equally likely to plan a birthday party or know that the car needs oil or miss work for a sick child or remember (without prompting) to stop at the store for diapers and milk.

and, in the next paragraph, it is summarized as, "Gender should not determine the division of labor at home." but what i think the article fails to recognize is that the former is only one possible way of realizing the latter. not playing into gender stereotypes does not mean that a couple needs to share everything equally. it's great that some couples have been able to make this work but, from an economist's perspective, it is not likely to be the best use of resources. the most obvious example of this is the observation that, even if two people working part-time could earn as much as one of them working full-time, this almost certainly will not be true in five years when promotions for the part-timers take twice as long or never come at all. and, a family doesn't need both parents to keep track of the same things... that is the whole point of division of labor, and the reason that it makes production more efficient.

i also think it is wrong to imply that "equally shrared parenting" requires equal amounts of time with the children (even though it would be great if more employers made that a real possibility). when only dad works, the parents certainly don't claim that all the birthday presents are only from dad, and we would think it horribly chauvinistic if they did. so, in keeping with that logic, when only mom stays home, the parents certainly can't claim that mom is the only one doing any parenting (not that being the provider of material goods is equivalent to being a parent). in fact, we wouldn't even say that birthday presents are "mostly" from the parent who earns more, so we shouldn't say that "most" of the parenting is done by the person who is home more. if we want society to have a broader definition of work, then we need a broader definition of parenting too. men and women need the same options and to have their contributions equally appreciated, not necessarily to actually do equal amounts of everything.

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