As I was reading the article, ``Young Women Exercise Options,'' May 24, about economist Richard Hokenson's hypothesis that women ages 20 to 24 are choosing to become 1950s-style housewives, I wondered why the author didn't ask Mr. Hokenson certain questions. For example, what percentage of these young, nonworking women are single? In graduate school? What percentage of men ages 20 to 24 are out of the labor force? What percentage of one-income families consist of a breadwinning mother and a homemaking father? And so on. Most of my nonworking female friends in their early 20s are single and in graduate school. They have no desire to be June Cleaver!
Indeed, there has been an increase in the number of households consisting of a breadwinning wife and a husband ``not in the work force.'' The 1993 figures from the Fertility Bureau of the US Census show that in 20 percent of the cases, when a mother is at work, the father cares for the children. While full-time fathering is still quite rare, it can no longer be called a ``freak occurrence'' on the parenting landscape. Indeed, a 1990 Los Angeles Times poll revealed that 39 percent of fathers would rather stay home with their children than pursue their careers. If Mr. Hokenson really wants to report on a sea change in American life, he should concentrate on the increasing tolerance of fathers as primary homemakers.
I also wondered about the article's title. While female labor-force participation will probably not rise much above current levels, this is not because women are exercising their options. When fathers refuse to take equal responsibility for housework and child care, when husbands insist that their careers come first, when employers remain family-hostile, and when the government remains lax in enforcing antidiscrimination laws, the women who stay at home are not exercising an option. They are being subtly forced into the home by a patriarchal society. Joanne Callahan, Garland, Texas
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