BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Changing gender roles amidst the recession

Posted by egehl on August 6, 2009

Even though the economy is showing signs of life families nationwide are still struggling to financially survive.  As the recession marches on families have gotten creative with how to handle job losses, salary changes, and increasing demands by shifting their view and stereotypes about gender roles and responsibilities. family

The unemployment rate is hovering near 10% which means many people are still without jobs and families must adjust their life accordingly so that they can adequately handle their expenses.  The economic shift is recalibrating who is earning the income, who picks up the kids from school, and who cleans the house. Researchers are unsure how this will play out in the long run but it certainly could have an impact on children and how they view their parents.

Job losses are disproportionately impacting men which is causing a change in gender roles.  Since the economy began downsizing there have been deep cuts in the manufacturing and construction industries, which are predominantly male.  Approximately 2 million jobs have been lost in those industries alone which means a lot of men are out of work.  Men have lost twice as many jobs as women and it is uncertain exactly what these unemployed men are doing whether that is going back to school, staying at home with the children, or simply giving up.  But one thing is for certain it has caused a seismic shift in family roles. 

Women’s involvement in the workplace has increased steadily in the last 50 years.  According to the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce done by the Family and Work Institute, 79 percent of married or partnered employees live in dual-earning households and women in these couples earn on average 44 percent of the household income.  With a high number of men losing their employment, women must pick up the slack by either returning to work, working more hours, or relying on their partners to take on more household duties. 

200520420-001Couples with set roles and expectations must re-examine each other’s activities as a result of job loss and the need to take care of children.  More men are taking on child-care duties, driving kids to their activities, cooking dinner and taking care of the house.  Meanwhile more women are working as the family’s main source of income.  This change can be hard on both parents because now women who once stayed at home must work full-time and see their children less, and men may feel emasculated because they are uncomfortable not being the breadwinner.

However there are silver linings to these new arrangements.  Recently a friend of mine commented that after her husband lost his job and had to stay at home with their 3 kids, he established a whole new appreciation for how hard it is to stay at home to take care of the children and run the household.  As a result their marriage has improved because she no longer feels bitter that he doesn’t appreciate her and he is more present in their family’s life, and has developed a new empathy for her work and contribution.   

The shift in power, while hard for many couples, has also made dealing with the recession a bit easier by embracing these new roles.  For some couples the adjustment has been smooth as many men are thrilled to have the opportunity to spend more time with their children and perhaps start a small business they had always considered.  And for women they are able to enhance their careers and focus on their professional life after putting so much time and energy into their family life.  Regardless these types of changes require solid communication between partners otherwise the new roles can be overwhelming and not fulfilling.  In addition, while one partner may be happy with the change for the long-term the other partner might think of the new situation as only short-term until he/she finds another job.

The ripple effects of the last year will be felt on families for years.  Similarly to when women started going to work in droves amidst the feminist movement this will have an impact on today’s children in ways we cannot predict.  However it can also help adjust some of the very stubborn and long-held views by society that each gender must remain in certain roles, which can feel constricting for everyone.

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2 Responses to “Changing gender roles amidst the recession”

  1. […] position due to the economy or the family cannot financially survive on a one person income.  In a previous YWM blog the article talks about the changing gender roles amidst the recession, and h…  Regardless of why moms return to work, it’s both an exciting and scary time for many women who […]

  2. […] 2. Changing Gender Roles Amidst the Recession […]

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