Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sex, Love and Labor Statistics

On NPR this week, I was asked if there’s any good in the new statistics showing that women now outnumber men in the work force. Maybe. If it lets us embrace women as breadwinners, I said, that would be healthy. Even healthier: If men do their part at home and free women to keep the kinds of jobs that pay well. Listen

But, like many things, this all comes down to love and sex. Some people get uneasy when women make more money and men do more childcare. Why is that? I’m guessing it’s the same reason that, until we wrote our book, I’d never heard these two facts:

1) Growing your earnings power helps you get -- and stay -- married if you are a woman.

2) When husbands do more at home, couples have more sex.

(For details on point #2, see

Let’s shake off our male-female identity angst so we weather the downturn more happily and set up for a better future.

Two career bets are safer than one. Dual-career men and women can each be more agile, less vulnerable members of the labor force. A wife who can keep the family afloat gives a downsized husband better options – to find the right next job, change careers, start his own business.

And when a man values his wife's career, he’s more willing to step up and do his part at ho, me. When a mom values her husband as an equally qualified parent, she’s more likely to step aside and let him do things his own way (and dad’s more apt to enjoy parenting).

We need to move from women having more jobs to women having better jobs – because female earnings matter to families not just in a recession but in the recovery too.

We’re fooling ourselves if we think we have free labor markets when “girl-jobs” (less pay, some time for kids) and “boy jobs” (more pay, no time for kids) persist. We’ll all enjoy more prosperity when the best person for the job can both win the post and keep it -- whether man or woman, dad or mom.

By Sharon Meers

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can Open Minds Be Contagious?

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine echoed a theme of a great new book: Is happiness - or it’s opposite - catching?

In the Times, researchers say that the company we keep matters a lot -- it drives our health habits and our moods. And in Hell is Other Parents, Deborah Copaken Kogan shares engaging and often hilarious tales that show the same is true of parenting.

From labor and delivery in urban hospitals to the micro-politics of playgrounds, Kogan explores the transmission of parental anxiety. The sugar-phobic mom covering her kid’s ears lest existence of cookies be revealed. The dad who is so eager to make a point he’s happy to insult your child’s hero to do it. Parents who see every test of grade school as a verdict on their own worth.

As a mother of young kids, reining in my own child-rearing neuroses is a 24/7 job -- at which I frequently fail. But Hell is Other Parents reminds me to keep trying. The best thing we can do for our kids is to build a positive culture around them. The Times talks about playing up-beat music on the way home for family dinner -- to get our own contagious moods in the right place. Quarantining our parental angst can help a lot too. Letting go of our personal dogmas makes room for a healthier habit: Opening our minds.

At our Getting to 50/50 book talks, we get two reactions about men and women re-negotiating the work/life split. When we say men can be equally good parents (and that women’s jobs are equally important), we hear either “that’s obvious” or “no way.” We think it’s neither - not a snap nor impossible. In our own lives, it takes daily re-examination of how we do things. But that’s the fun of it.

“”I will not be domesticated,’ my husband actually said that to me early in our marriage” a mother of young kids told me today. But with an open mind, this working mom evolved her approach (less particular, more encouraging), saw her spouse would willingly do domestic stuff if free to use his own style - and bit by bit her welcoming approach paid off in a husband who supports her career and happily does his part with their children.

Maybe we parents will have less hell and more haven this way: Drop our judgments and certainties (with our spouse/siblings/friends) and make broadmindedness among parents a viral virtue.

By Sharon Meers