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Young Americans prefer novel egalitarian family models

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Posted January 26, 2015

Both, young American men and women prefer to have equal responsibilities in their families. However, hostile institutional arrangements force them to stick to old gender roles.

Image credit: Kim Seng via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Image credit: Kim Seng via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

That is the main conclusion of the new study carried out by David S. Pedulla at Princeton University and Sarah Thébaud at the University of California. ”These findings shed light on important questions about the role of institutions and policies in shaping work-family preferences, underscoring the notion that seemingly gendertraditional work-family decisions are largely contingent on the constraints of current workplaces,” the authors of the article which will be pulished in the next issue of American Sociological Review say.

Although last century witnessed a strong increase in gender equality, this process slowed down during the last decades. Despite the fact that a large number of females entered the labor market, they still rarely occupy positions which are most competitive. Moreover, women pursuing menly careers are more likely to stop them and devote their lives to family matters. How these differences can be explained?

On the one hand, it is often argued that these preferences are determined by institutional arrangements. Even if couples prefer egalitarian family life they should act accordingly to the options and constraints of their workplaces. On the other hand, it is often claimed that these observations are caused by biological differences. ”Often rooted in gender-essentialist beliefs about men’s and women’s hard-wired differences, popular perspectives invoke a logic of choice: men prefer more competitive work environments, whereas women prefer less demanding work environments and/or “choose” to return home because they value the comforts of home and family,” the researchers explain.

Unfortunately, most of the previous studies are qualitative. Therefore their results are not generalizable. Pedulla and Thebaud investigated to what extent these differences are created by gendered social institutions using sample representative of U.S. young adults population. ”Drawing on original survey-experimental data, we ask respondents how they would like to structure their future relationships while experimentally manipulating the degree of institutional constraint under which they state their preferences,” they explain.

Sociologists revealed that most of the young American irrespective of their education would like to maintain egalitarian relationships if this is possible. They also showed that people change their preferences when they face institutional barriers. Interestingly, people having different schooling levels are affected differently. Females, who are less educated prefer either the self-reliant or primary breadwinner option, while women who are more educated prefer neotraditional family constellations. In contrast males, who have lower education prefer neotraditional family model. Nevertheless this is not the case with men, who are on the college track.

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