Attitudes climbing back in working moms' favor: survey

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Gender roles

Gender roles (Debra McClinton, Getty photo)

We came a long way, baby. Then we stalled. Now we're picking up speed again.

The General Social Survey, a sociological analysis of demographics and attitudes in the United States, has measured Americans' support for gender equity since 1977. Until the mid-'90s, things were looking pretty good, with researchers calling the change in attitudes toward women between 1977 and 1994 "nothing short of remarkable."

For example, in 1977, 66 percent of Americans agreed with the following statement: "It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family." By 1994, 63 percent disagreed with the statement — almost a complete flip.

But rather than continue to gain momentum, those percentages began to slip in the new millennium, with just 58 percent of respondents disagreeing with the statement in 2000.

A team of academics, led by David Cotter, professor of sociology at Schenectady, N.Y.-based Union College, analyzed the last few decades of General Social Survey results for a paper published online this week by the Council on Contemporary Families.

"In the same six years (1994-2000), the number of Americans disagreeing that preschool children were harmed if their mothers worked fell from 57 to 51 percent," write Cotter and his fellow authors. "And the number agreeing that a working mother could have an equally warm relationship with her child as a full-time homemaker fell from 69 to 60 percent."

I think I speak for all working moms when I channel my inner Tina Fey (also a working mom) for a rousing, "What the what?"

Cotter's paper attributes the "stalled revolution" to a handful of factors: economic prosperity in the '90s; a movement away from organized campaigns for better work-family policies in favor of "opting out" and other individual choices; a rise in cultural conservatism; and the emergence of a more intensive, anxious parenting style to ensure kids have what it takes to succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

Which is funny, because the main reason I work is so my kids can have the things it takes to succeed in an increasingly competitive world: food, a house, books, a 529 college savings plan.

But I digress. Mostly because it looks like we're back to making some progress.

By 2012, the percentage of respondents who disagreed that it's better for men to earn all the dough while women do all the home stuff rose to an all-time high of 68 percent. (Up from 58 percent in 2000, as we mentioned earlier.)

Other 2012 highlights: A full 72 percent of Americans agreed that a working mom can have an equally warm relationship with her child as an at-home mom does, and 65 percent disagreed that preschool children suffer if their mother works outside the home. (Only 51 percent disagreed in 2000.)

According to Cotter's paper, we can thank the younger set for the attitude shift.

"At this point the main force pulling the overall average up beyond its earlier high point is the entry of the Millennial generation, which displays the most gender egalitarian attitudes of all."

God love 'em.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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