What Women Want-What Men Want: Why the Sexes Still See Love and Commitment So Differently

By John Marshall Townsend | Go to book overview

9
Who Does the Diapers and the Dishes?

The Domestic Division of Labor

In sociology . . . it is easy to forget that the basic facts of family life consist in the coming together of people with physical bodies to mate, to reproduce, and to rear the young. . . . Just as the sexual script, so the parenting script in the new family sociology seems to be modeled on what has been a male pattern of relating to children, in which men turn their fathering on and off to suit themselves or their appointments for business or sexual pleasure. . . . In my judgment, by far the wiser course to such a future is to plan and build from the most fundamental root of society in human parenting, and not from the shaky superstructure created by men in that fraction of time in which industrial societies have existed.

-- Alice Rossi, A Biosocial Perspective on Parenting

ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGIST MARVIN HARRIS explains the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s in terms of the gradual erosion of the family as an economic unit. 1 With the rise of industrial cities, children became economic liabilities rather than assets because they were no longer needed for domestic labor, as they had been in rural settings. In urban societies, children may not be present or willing to care for parents in old age, and developing technology required more education for adult work, so the cost of children, both real and as investments for the future, increased. Progress in medicine led to reduced child mortality, so couples could have fewer children and be relatively sure that they would survive.

In the last two centuries in Europe and the United States, the decade from 1940 to around 1950 was the only one when the birth rate was not declining slowly and steadily. The baby boom decade was partly the result of the fact that 14 million World War II veterans received insurance and housing benefits that greatly reduced the costs of marriage and children, therefore increasing the marriage and birth rates between 1940 and 1957.

The influx of women into the labor market and a radical decrease in the birth rate began in 1957--seven years before the pill became widely available--and this preceded the women's movement. The increase of working women depressed the birth rate because group child care was not adequate and because the cost of children rose. At first, married, middle-class women

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