Tanzina: I'm Tanzina Vega and you're listening to the Takeaway. As we talked about at the top of today's show, Judge Amy Coney Barrett if confirmed could be the next Supreme Court Justice succeeding Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Though the two women are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they do have one thing in common. Crediting their husbands for supporting them personally and professionally. Here's Barrett at the White House on Saturday.
Barrett: I couldn't manage this very full life without the unwavering support of my husband Jesse. At the start of our marriage, I imagined that we would run our household as partners. As it has turned out, Jesse does far more than his share of the work.
Tanzina: Ginsburg was also known for praising her husband Marty for his unfailing support.
Ginsburg: My first two cancer bouts, Marty stayed with me. He stayed with me in the hospital, sleeping on an uncomfortable couch despite his bad back. I knew that someone was there who really cared about me and would make sure things didn't go wrong.
Tanzina: Having a Marty Ginsburg or a Jesse Barrett kind of spousal support is rare for many professional women today, and the pandemic has exacerbated that. Despite men spending more time at home since March, domestic responsibilities are still falling disproportionately on women. That includes everything from doing the housework to teaching the children.
In some cases, working women have had to reduce their working hours four to five times more than their male counterparts. For more on this, I'm joined by Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. Welcome to the show, Caitlyn.
Caitlyn: Hello. Thanks for the invitation.
Tanzina: Patti Cohen is an economics correspondent for the New York Times. Patti, thanks for joining me.
Patti: Oh, my pleasure.
Tanzina: Let's start with you, Patti. Why is the pandemic disproportionately affecting mothers in heterosexual couples? What's the biggest way it is affecting them?
Patti: Well, I think we've got to take one step back and realize that even before the pandemic, there was an incredible imbalance between the work that mothers and fathers do when they were children. Even before that, you have women providing close to 70% of childcare and that's during standard working hours.
When you think about it now and on the pandemic, so that burden has been super-sized as schools and other activities shut down, everything from cleaning services to babysitters. It’s just really emphasizing this inequity and imbalance that existed beforehand.
Tanzina: A lot of things, Patti, at least among, potentially upper-middle-class families were being outsourced. You mentioned cleaning services and things like that. Now that those things have been taken away essentially because of the pandemics restrictions, the burden is still falling on women?
Patti: Right, the burden was always heavier on women and now it's even more so. At least in wealthier households or higher-income households, it's possible for one income to perhaps cover the expenses in a way that's not possible in lower-income households. They’re really hurt there because not only are we talking about a disparity between the parents but it's also an income inequality issue. In those households, you need both incomes really to pay the bills.
Tanzina: Caitlyn, do we have any quantitative data that backs up what we're talking about here?
Caitlyn: We do. Both before the pandemic and during the pandemic, we have an abundance of evidence, especially beforehand that shows that women are bearing the disproportionate burden for domestic responsibilities. Patti mentioned childcare and of course also housework. Women do roughly two-thirds of the housework and childcare in heterosexual couples in the United States today.
During the pandemic when we take a look at working hours specifically, it is women and not men who are reducing their working hours. From a study I did earlier this summer, it appears that women in heterosexual married couples with children are reducing their work hours on the order of roughly two hours per week. This has really troubling consequences when we think through the impact of that on women's labor force participation and on their future earnings, their trajectory in the labor market. Without robust policy supports, I fear that this is going to have disastrous consequences for a generation of working moms.
Tanzina: Caitlyn, I'm a Gen-Xer and we-- I think I can speak for some of us, maybe not all of us. I think there was an assumption that at some point this division would have been erased for our generation at least to a certain extent. It appears to have been exacerbated, instead, by this pandemic. Beyond that, as you both mentioned, this is not new. Caitlyn, why are men not pulling their weight when it comes to domestic responsibilities?
Caitlyn: I will say that men today do more around the house than their fathers did in previous generations. The additional labor that men are doing at home is primarily in the arena of child care and not housework. We have to think of the household as a deeply gendered institution. Our ideas about who can and should be doing housework and childcare are differently associated with men and women.
In general stereotypical and in many people's opinions outdated ideals of family life mean that men are thought of as breadwinners and women as homemakers. Of course, that's no longer the reality. Women work on nearly on par with men in the paid labor force yet we haven't seen concurrent change on the part of men's behavior at home in splitting up a more egalitarian division of labor in the domestic sphere.
I think that's because we tend to continue gender stereotyping domestic work as women's responsibility. Of course, men are every bit as capable of housework and childcare as women are today. It’s that behavioral change on the part of men that will really help further equality in the household, and also of course it's consequences for paid work too.
Tanzina: Patti, we've talked in broad strokes here about people who are in opposite-sex couples, but I want to drill down a little bit if we can. Do we know whether this is exacerbated by race for example? Are women of color experiencing more inequity than their white counterparts?
Patti: Well, I think that's where you have this overlay of socioeconomic status and race and ethnicity because minority women are disproportionately lower-income and so the burdens on them are that much greater. They're also perhaps more likely to be in jobs that you can't do remotely from home. We see during the pandemic that that's clearly also tends to have a economic factor to it as well. In all cases, all of these trends that we've been talking about tend to hit minority women even harder.
Tanzina: I'm wondering, Caitlyn, drilling down even further, is there any research that looks at same-sex couples and how the division might be playing out there?
Caitlyn: Same-sex couples tend to have a more equal division of labor at home. I think that gets back to the point I made earlier, which is that when we stereotype these tasks as being associated with men and women and same-sex couples, the gender dynamic of that is removed to a degree. Research finds consistently that same-sex couples have more equal households than heterosexual couples do.
Tanzina: Turns out that some of our listeners have noticed their relationship dynamics changing in recent months.
Strawbridge: Hi, my name is Silo Strawbridge. I'm calling from Vista, California. In the pandemic, I feel I'm pulling all the weight in the household. Meanwhile, my spouse thinks he's pulling all the way too. We recognized there's just a lot more weight to be pulled but we still feel both resentful and grateful we're not doing this alone.
Tanzina: Patti, we just heard a caller building on what we've been talking about. At the very top, we talked about Jesse Barrett and Marty Ginsburg. Two men whose wives went on at least in Ginsburg's case to become a Supreme Court Justice. The other whose wife is in the running to be a Supreme Court Justice and both of them cited that spousal support is critical to making that happen. Patti, why aren't there more Marty Ginsburgs and Jesse Barretts in the world?
Patti: Well, I love the way that you started this part of the segment with that call, which is the mother complaining that her spouse thinks he's doing more. What’s so interesting is that there are a lot of research, [unintelligible 00:08:49] did a poll earlier on, and father's perception of the work they were doing was incredibly outsize in proportion to mother’s perception of the work that they were doing. I think it was something like half of the father said they were spending more time on it than their spouse but only 3% of women agreed with that statement.
In fairness, look, we're all very aware of the time that each person individually that we spend ourselves doing something and perhaps less aware of it than what your spouse is doing.
Perhaps one of the positives of staying home during the pandemic if you have fathers staying home as well is that they get to see firsthand a little bit more of just all of the work that's involved. A lot of which seems to get done often times behind the scenes that they're not aware of.
Look, it's just what we've been talking about this whole show in terms of the gender roles and discrimination and the assumptions, the cultural biases that are still very prevalent here. It is unusual for men to take the dominant role, certainly in terms of all the household responsibilities, in addition to childcare.
Tanzina: Speaking of our caller at the top, one of the things that Viola our caller said was that they're both resentful about having to do more, but they're also both grateful they're not doing it alone, and Caitlyn, I want to ask you about that element here, because not everybody's in a relationship, not everybody has a spouse, to begin with, I mean, I am the sole caretaker for my son since the pandemic started, there are single parents in the world and there are a single people in the world. How is all this affecting them?
Caitlyn: I think single parents are struggling in a way that heterosexual and even same-sex couples can't comprehend. The idea that you have a partner at home as a, both an emotional, but also a material source of support day-to-day around the house is invaluable. When we think about how difficult this pandemic has been in terms of the added workload that goes into maintaining a household today, but also the distress and exhaustion, burnout, overwhelm, worry that parents today are feeling.
Single parents in particular, who don't have a partner to lean on in the same way that coupled people do. I think we really need to be thinking about how we can better support these folks. The idea that amongst at least professional and white-collar workers who are working from home these days are trying to simultaneously care for children because schools and daycares have opened unevenly means that parents are trying to simultaneously care for kids and get their work done.
For those workers who have to go into work every day, I can't even fathom the sorts of patchwork solutions they need to come up with in order to maintain their employment. To me, this really spells disaster for single parents and we need to do more materially to support them with policy.
Tanzina: As one, myself, I will have to say in transparency I agree with that. Patti, we've started to reopen here and I think there have been fits and starts as far as the success of those efforts, but at the end of the day, mostly people are still being very precautious. Most companies are still, a large percent of their workforce are still at home and it feels like women. It doesn't feel like, it appears that women are still sacrificing their careers. Why is that women are the ones to say, "You know what? I'll pull back on my career. I'll do less, of this so that I can do more at home"? Why do we feel that burden specifically?
Patti: I think there's two reasons for it. One in- and again, there's differences according oftentimes to income and in upper-income households, oftentimes the men will earn more than the woman. If one person is going to pull back, it may be an economic decision in terms of having the higher income earner, which oftentimes more frequently is the man, take the primary role and have the woman pull back.
In lower-income families when oftentimes both members of the couple are earning about the same. Again, it's one of those things where culturally, just the assumption is and just the habits are of all that, that women pull back and that women have to take on the added burdens of not only at this point housework and childcare, but even schooling. A lot of the recent research is showing that once again, mothers are the ones who predominantly are taking on this role of doing the extra schooling that's filling in now that schools are closed.
Tanzina: Caitlyn, you mentioned the extra burden that's falling on single parents in particular, but across the board. I think what's being raised here is really, there's this tongue and cheek where is everybody's Marty Ginsburg question or Jesse Barrett, but there's also the reality that this is a hard thing to be doing right now. What are some policy solutions that you see that could help mitigate some of the stress for parents, whether they're in couples or not in couples?
Caitlyn: Look, the US has the most family hostile public policy of any country in the Western industrialized world. Before the pandemic, parents had no access to things like paid parental leave, high-quality affordable childcare. There's no federal minimum standard for vacation or sick days. During the pandemic, this means that parents have very little flexibility and caregiving support.
If we think realistically here, our childcare infrastructure is the thing on which every other part of our economy relies. People's ability to work is dependent on their ability to have their kids safe and taken care of while they engage in paid work.
To my way of thinking, our federal policies need to be aimed at first reopening schools and daycares as safely as possible before we open things like restaurants, bars, and retail. Again, it is the basic feature of our economic infrastructure that we have to support safely in order to support working families today. Childcare infrastructure and then of course giving parents a bit more flexibility when it comes to reducing their hours or taking time, crisis time off, which has been part of the most recent policy package and I think needs to be extended. The ability to have a bit more flexibility is really, really important for working parents today.
Tanzina: Caitlyn Collins is an assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, and Patti Cohen is a National Economics correspondent for the New York Times. Patti, and Caitlyn. Thanks for joining me.
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