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Mom AND Dad Both Work. Why Pretend Otherwise?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/11/2015 Emily Peck

Only a quarter of two-parent households fit into that "Leave It to Beaver" model where the dad makes the money and the mom stays home, a new survey reveals.

So why are U.S. policies and the U.S. workplace still structured as though this were the norm?

In nearly half of two-family households in the U.S., both parents work full time -- up from 31 percent in 1970, according to the survey released by Pew on Wednesday morning.

In Nearly Half of Two-Parent Households, Both Mom and Dad Work Full-Time © Provided by The Huffington Post In Nearly Half of Two-Parent Households, Both Mom and Dad Work Full-Time

Pew surveyed by phone 1,807 parents in the U.S. with children under 18 and also looked at government data on the workforce. The questions focused on how two-parent families shared parenting responsibilities and didn't look at single-mother or single-father households. Pew also did not include same-sex couples.

Though the study confined itself to two-parent households, it's clear that a policy and a workforce that thinks families are run by a man who works and a woman who stays home is even more problematic for single parents. And an increasing percentage of families with kids under 18 are run by one parent. Almost 40 percent of kids in the U.S. live in a home with a single parent or no parent at all (for example, a grandparent's in charge), according to a different Pew study.

Families where both parents work are doing much better economically. The median income for families where both parents work full time is $102,400, according to the recent Pew survey. In households where the father works full-time and the mother is not employed, the number drops to $55,000. (Families led by single mothers make less than all other types of families -- around $20,00 a year, according to Census data.)
Yet, U.S. policy lags behind most other developed economies when it comes to supporting households where both parents work -- or where just one parent is working and holding everything together.

The biggie: We are the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid family leave to new mothers.

There's a lot more holding working parents back: The quality of day care in the U.S. is uneven and in many places, dangerous, as my colleague Jonathan Cohn reported for The New Republic in a story aptly titled "The Hell of American Daycare" a few years ago. It's also incredibly expensive -- in many areas of the country, child care costs more than rent, a recent study showed.

There's also no mandated paid sick leave, which would allow a parent to stay home with a sick child. This really hurts lower-income earners who don't have the job flexibility to work from home and must choose between a sick child and a day's pay.

Our tax policy also often benefits single-income couples -- where the non-earning partner's zero income can move the couple into a lower tax bracket.

And we haven't even gotten to the American workplace yet. Even though some companies are catching on that men and women both need more flexible schedules to balance work and family responsibilities, workplace ideals are still pretty much structured according to that "Leave It to Beaver" situation mentioned above.

The "best" workers put in the most hours and display primary devotion to their employer, putting parents -- men and women -- at a disadvantage for prioritizing home. It's so understood that "successful" men should put work first that one study found some men pretending to work 80-hour weeks just to get ahead -- while sneaking out for family obligations.

The research organization also looked at the so-called chore wars -- that never-ending negotiation between parents about who does what at home. The news is pretty heartening: parents are making big advances in sharing the work around the house. Sixty percent of those surveyed said they share the chores equally; 64 percent said they shared playing and activities equally. 

There's still more work to do, of course. Mothers reported feeling more rushed and spending too little time with their kids, and more women than men said that having children held them back at work. And there was a difference in how men and women perceived their work at home. Dads said they shared equally in the chores; moms thought they did more.

Still, for all that, it's clear that American families are becoming more equal -- when will everyone else catch on, too? 

ATHENA IMAGE © The Bees Knees Daily/Flickr ATHENA IMAGE

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