Hoping for the Best, Ready for the Worst: Thanks to Recession and Divorce, Today's College Kids Are Determined to Break the Rules about Sex Roles

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Byline: Barbara Kantrowitz

A few years ago, when the University of Connecticut women's basketball team first captured the NCAA title, a popular bumper sticker declared the Storrs campus a place where the men are men and the women are champions. And with the Lady Huskies still stars, UConn students aren't afraid to break stereotypes. So last week senior Christopher Kyne, 22, was confident about heading to South Carolina after graduation because his girlfriend has a good job at the Medical University of South Carolina. "We're going on her money," he says. He hopes to enter grad school and become a teacher, partly because it's a family-friendly career. In the future, he says, "I'd be 100 percent satisfied if my wife made enough money so I could be a stay-at-home dad."

Openness to flexible roles in marriage and family distinguishes this generation of college students from their parents, say researchers who've studied their progress. The battle over whether mothers should work is moot now; families need the money. Young women are more ready to pick up the slack and the men feel less of a stigma if they stay home. Everyone is desperate to avoid his parents' mistakes. In the early 1980s, these kids' baby-boomer mothers --swarmed into the work force without any of the supports common today--maternity leave, part-time career paths, flexible schedules. The children saw marriages crumble under the strain. They also watched the economy ricochet. In the current downturn, many of their fortysomething fathers are out of work with little chance of getting rehired. In this context, rigid roles seem quaint, says Kathleen Gerson, a sociologist at New York University who is writing a book called "The Children of the Gender Revolution." "If the economic opportunities are there for the woman, fine. As long as they are there for somebody."

They're hopeful but pragmatic, and understand that the real world can crush ideals. …