Generational Dads


As a angst-ridden GenXer, my first instinct in response to an article titled “Millennial ‘Mr. Moms’ turn out to be all talk” is to scoff, but to a large extent, their plight is mine, too.

According to Naomi Schaefer Riley’s article, the picture comes through in  opinion polls:

  • 70% of Millennial men say they’d stay home to watch the children if it helped the career of their significant others.
  • 78% feel childcare should be divided into equal shares.
  • But only 5% of Millennial fathers do the stay-at-home thing, with 85% working full time, 6% working part time, and 4% unemployed.
  • They also still tend to be the leading breadwinners in their families, with 60% bringing home at least 59% of household income.
  • And their attitude aligns with their realities, with 67% of Millennial men and women thinking it’s “very important” for them to support their families, while only 40% say the same for women.

In summary, Millennial men feel obligated to work (indeed, the economy that the Baby Boomers left us leaves most families little choice), they feel responsibility to work hard enough that they could be the sole source of income, if they had to be, but they still feel like they have to pick up an equal share of home workloads.  The whole picture certainly describes my circumstances — working from home for my family’s primary income while watching our toddler and picking up an equal amount of housework.

Given all this, contrary to Danielle Paquette and Peyton Craighill’s recent article in the Washington Post, it isn’t surprising at all that “three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the United States say they’ve passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit to tend to their kids.”  Child care is expensive, meaning that extra work must really pay well in order to make up for it, and parents tend to want to be involved in their children’s lives.

Naturally, the article in the Washington Post presents this as a problem for government to solve, but government involvement would be about the worst thing that our society could do.  Government incentives have played a large role in changing the decision making of families to get us to the point that families can’t live on a single income, in large part by pushing trends toward a more-egalitarian attitude more quickly than the culture was ready to do.

Perhaps we’re now seeing the culture absorb this change, with families reasserting the value of home life.  Subsidizing that trend might make it marginally easier for some families, but if history is any guide, it would make it more difficult for many more.  Somebody has to pay to subsidize child care, after all, and changing the financial calculation in favor of child care will make it more difficult for those families that would rather spend more time with their families to do so.

Of course, subsidizing child care leads families to rely on government and makes a special interest out of child care providers, which ensures votes and power.