As Millennials reject gender roles, but embrace marriage, they're changing society
While the Millennial generation's beliefs reject conventional notions about the place of women in society, both sexes still place a high value on marriage and family. However challenging, these shifting gender roles will force changes in Millennials' home and work cultures.
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All of this female achievement has produced some reconsideration of the traditional definitions of men’s and women’s roles not only in America’s workplaces and classrooms, but also in its homes.Skip to next paragraph
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In a 2010 essay in Newsweek, two male Millennials, Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil, posited the need for “a New Macho: a reimagining of what men should be expected to do in the two realms, home and work, that have always defined their worth.” They predict a greater participation in housework and child rearing from the males of their generation than by earlier generations of fathers.
Already, 2010 census data show that 32 percent of fathers with working wives routinely care for their children under age 15, up more than 20 percent since 2002.
In part because of this evolution of gender roles, Millennials are marrying at a later age than other cohorts, something that might enhance the stability and longevity of future Millennial marriages. Pew indicates that less than a quarter of 18-30 year-old Millennials are married, compared to a third of Generation X, nearly half of Baby Boomers, and 6 in 10 members of the Silent Generation (born 1925–1945) when the members of those generations were the age that Millennials are today.
While economic pressures certainly play a role in this reluctance to marry early, the basic caution of Millennials, their unwillingness to take such an important step until they are sure that it is right, also plays a role. Their desire to participate in partnerships in which both spouses equally share rights and responsibilities is also likely to lessen disharmony and the chances of divorce once Millennials do marry.
However, these changing gender roles may also give rise to tension or ambiguity for both Millennial men and women. The New Male Mystique, a report from the Family and Work Institute, indicated that 60 percent of fathers in two-income families said work-family conflicts were a problem. In 1977, only 35 percent of fathers in such settings called it an issue. During the same period, the percentage of working mothers identifying work-family conflicts as an issue rose only from 41 percent to 47 percent.
This suggests that as Millennial women achieve parity with men in their career aspirations, the roles of breadwinner, parent, and spouse will have to be fulfilled in new ways that satisfy the beliefs of both sexes about what constitutes a successful, fulfilling, and happy life. It may also produce shifts in workplace culture and policy that better accommodate the needs of parents of both sexes as they work, marry, and raise families in ways their parents did not.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of the newly published “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America” as well as “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.” They are both fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute.