A New York Times op-ed on millennial men details some surprising statistics regarding the way men ages 18-34 view the role they play, or should play, in family life. Nearly 50 percent of men ages 18-25 believe it better for “everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” A similar survey of high school seniors in 2014 revealed that 58 percent “agreed that the best family was one where the man was the main income earner and the woman took care of the home.” Why, you may ask? The strongest theory suggests that the generation that grew up with two working parents is well aware of the stresses that dynamic brings upon family life:
…there is considerable evidence that the decline in support for “nontraditional” domestic arrangements stems from young people witnessing the difficulties experienced by parents in two-earner families. A recent study of 22 European and English-speaking countries found that American parents report the highest levels of unhappiness compared with non-parents, a difference the researchers found is “entirely explained” by the absence of policies supporting work-family balance.
The writer at the Times quickly turned the statistics into an argument for increased government involvement in family life in the form of paid leave policies and “affordable, high-quality child care.” To back up this claim, the author cites statistics that show that when a woman has to manage too much of the childcare and household responsibilities, presumably because she lives in a male-breadwinner household, the couple’s sex life suffers.
In other words, the Times wants to combat a generational craving for traditional home and family values with the lure of better sex and potential for increased financial security. Obviously, they aren’t aware of other recent statistics revealing that millennials are increasingly prioritizing family over career, often to the point of choosing the stay-at-home parent dynamic. They must also be unaware of statistics showing the more educated the woman, the more education and earning power she’s looking for in a man, precisely so she can stay at home with her children while they are young.
To their credit, the Times clearly illustrates the difference between the two types of family culture we’re being asked to choose from. One is the candy-coated vision of mythical “high-quality child care” and extended maternity leaves being forced on us by politicians and activists who insist that a woman’s greatest accomplishments can only be measured in a man’s playing field. The other is the desire of a growing number of young men and women whose vision of family life exists out of that field’s bounds:
…millennial men are significantly more likely than Gen X or baby boomer men to say that society has already made all the changes needed to create equality in the workplace.
Both visions are competing against the Times’ Don Draper-esque vision of reality that has men smoking in board rooms and women chained to kitchens and babies. It is in this way the statistics are most revealing: Millennials think Don Draper is the stuff of television, not real life. Perhaps it’s time the writers at the Times catch up.