The Shriver Report: Parity Between The Sexes? Not Yet
This week California’s First Lady Maria Shriver, with the help of the think tank, Center for American Progress, released The Shriver Report, titled “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything.” The idea for the research report came earlier this year when the nation faced a proverbial tipping point—for the first time ever, half of workers in the U.S. workforce were women. The survey is touted as “a landmark examination of this fundamental change in American society.” Shriver’s part in this was to hit the road last summer and visit women and men around the country, asking them how this transformation–to a nation where women comprise not only half the workforce but are increasingly emerging as a family’s primary breadwinner–was affecting their lives. CAP’s contribution was led by their senior economist Heather Boushey, who studies working families and the U.S. labor market, as well as Ann O’Leary, a senior fellow at CAP and executive director of the Berkeley Center for Health, Economic & Family Security.
It may seem like a small milestone, this fifty-percent-of-the-workforce mark, but it’s not. It does, in fact, mark a transformation. If nothing else, it changes the image our daughters have of daddy going off to work in the morning—plenty of mommies are going off to work too, even if the office is the spare bedroom down the hall. And they are supporting their families. Before this period in history, women had their moment in the workforce during World War II, when they accounted for more than a third of those working. Today, their rising numbers are not because men are leaving jobs to battle enemies overseas. They are leaving because of layoffs. The recession has hit men harder than women and, as a result, women have gone to work.
The Shriver Report says
“women are more likely to work outside the home and their earnings are more important to family well-being than ever before in our nation’s history. This transformation changes everything. At the most profound level, it changes the rules of what it means to be a woman—and what it means to be a man. Women are now increasingly sharing the role of breadwinner, as well as the role of caregiver, with the men in their lives. Even so, we have yet to come to terms with what it means to live in a nation where both men and women typically work outside the home and what we need to do to make this new reality workable for families who have child care and elder care responsibilities through most of their working lives.”
It’s been well-documented that women still handle the lion’s share of domestic duties in their families, whether it’s packing lunches for the kids or caring for aging parents.
Nearly four in ten mothers, according to the report, are primary breadwinners, and nearly two-thirds are co-breadwinners, bringing home at least a quarter of their family’s earnings. And though there’s much to celebrate, there’s still plenty of inequality to swallow. Women may be breadwinners but they are still paid 23 cents less than men for every dollar earned in the economy. Says the report: “Most women today are providing for their families by working outside the home—and still earning less than men—while providing more than their fair share of care giving responsibilities inside the home, an increasingly impossible task.”
And there are other implications too. Women in the workforce in unprecedented numbers affects children—many of whom wind up latchkey kids, hanging out at home without supervision for hours after school. It affects our collective quality of life. Again, from the report:
“Many retail stores, restaurants, and consumer support lines are now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which meets the needs of families with 9-to-5 work hours. But this has meant that millions of other families—disproportionately immigrants and lower-income families—have workers employed during nonstandard hours, affecting their marriages and their ability to access child care and other supports not generally available at nonstandard times.”
Our nation’s changing workforce demographic is a complex one—with the earnings women provide making a huge difference for families trying to make ends meet. But women are still fighting for pay equality, fighting for help at home and as caregivers. Compared to our parents or grandparents’ generation, today’s families “put in more hours at work but see fewer gains.” Perhaps the next battle we have to fight—after we figure out how to get that 23 cents on the dollar we’re missing—is how to achieve some balance in our lives. There seem to be few surveys out that have the answer to achieving that.