A Women's Nation Changes Everything: Or Does It?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

According to The Shriver Report: A Women's Nation Changes Everything, we women have finally made it. Although the report focuses mainly on women with families, it tells us that women are now 50 percent of the paid workforce. Never mind that the current recession has skewed the statistics more toward women, since three-quarters of all the newly unemployed have been men.

The report goes on to state that nearly two-thirds of mothers either bring home all of the bacon or at least half of it. Moreover, the more educated the woman, the more likely it is that she works outside the home.

So does that mean that parity on the home front is at hand? Do men now share in 50 percent of the unpaid housework? Sadly, no. More than half of the women surveyed said they take on significantly more responsibility for house and family, but only 28 percent of men saw it that way.

Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, wrote the following in one of the essays in the Shriver Report: "Women still do the lion's share of the care for children and for adults. Women have subsidized the economy and subsidized the government for far too long. How? Well, for one, women's unpaid labor keeps families humming and keeps state budgets down. If women were not providing child care and long-term care to elderly family members at home, then taxes and public spending would be much higher."

Some things don't change. Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung in their 1989 book, The Second Shift, found that women who work outside the home put in one full month more than men do each year toward home and family care. That equates to 15 more hours per week of time that women spend than men doing household chores and care giving. And that's on top of her regular "day job." Another study by Beth Ann Shelton found that just the act of marrying adds 9 hours per week to a woman's household chores.

So why are women - particularly highly educated ones, and even those earning the bulk of the family income - still putting in so many more hours at home than their husbands? Dr. Allen Parkman, a professor at the University of New Mexico's business school, has come up with an intriguing hypothesis. He paired data from the University of Michigan's Time Use Longitudinal Panel Study from 1975-1981 with the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in each state. He argues that the advent of no-fault divorce laws, which make it easier for one spouse to divorce the other, substantially reduced (or even eliminated) the bargaining position of the spouse who was not seeking divorce. Since women were most often the economically disadvantaged party after a divorce, they sought work outside the home and a second income as a personal insurance policy against unilateral divorce. Parkman further posits that the personal insurance gained by women's external work reduces the family's net welfare (due to the loss of her domestic specialization), and leaves other family members less willing to assume her typical household duties. But in order to maintain the attraction of the marriage to their husbands, women continue to provide additional hours of domestic work, thereby increasing the total hours that they work.

So now that we women are becoming the primary breadwinners, and our wages are supposedly rising faster than men's (Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2009), will the tables turn? Can we look forward to Mrs. Cleaver coming home after a long hard day in the office to find Mr. Cleaver cooking, serving up dinner and doing the dishes? Not likely. Even in Sweden, one of the most gender equal countries in the world, only a minority of men take full advantage of the multitude of flexible work arrangements, like paid parental leave and reduced work hours, offered by law by companies there.

We've come a long way, baby! But we still have a longer way to go.