work and family scale

Most young people in the US want to equally share work and family responsibilities

According to a new study, to be published in the American Sociological Review, the majority of young people in the US would ideally like to be in an egalitarian relationship in which both partners equally split work and family responsibilities. 

In a survey experiment conducted with a nationally representative sample of unmarried, childless men and women between the ages of 18 and 32 in the United States, the researchers asked respondents how they would ideally like to structure their relationship with a future spouse or partner in terms of balancing work and family life.

The study finds that when the option is made available to them, the majority of respondents — regardless of gender or education level — opt for a relationship in which they would share earning and household/caregiving responsibilities equally with their partner. Additionally, the study finds that if workplace policies that support work-family balance, such as subsidized child care, are in place, women are even more likely to prefer an egalitarian relationship and much less likely to want to be the primary homemaker or caregiver.

Of course, the problem is that few couples are actually able to get what they want, thanks to our absurd work-family policies. “Most individuals in the United States, especially those in working-class jobs,” the authors write, “do not have access to policies that enable women and men to balance work and family life.” Consequently, “a key implication of this research is that men’s and women’s current work-family arrangements are often suboptimal,” explained the study’s co-author. And as a previous study revealing similar results found, when the egalitarian ideal can’t be met, cultural and structural pressures often push people toward a more traditional (read: sexist) division of labor as the fallback.

That fact underscores why better work-family policies are so critical to gender equality — but also why the fight shouldn’t just be ours. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address last night, “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.” That also goes for paid family leave and sick days and all the other policies we lack that are clearly keeping all of us — men and women — from living the lives we want.

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St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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