New Generation Tosses Out Old Gender Rules

Family-conscious men and working women redefine attitudes about work and home.

May 4, 2009, 12:03 PM

May 5, 2009— -- As soon as their son Jackson was born, Eric and Amy Adams of Canton, Ga., realized that juggling family life and the corporate world was going to be a challenge.

Now they've added baby Cooper to their family. And Eric Adams, 32, worries both that he should be doing more to advance his career at a telecom company and more to take care of his family.

"It's a balancing act. It's very difficult," he said. "I still want to move up and I still want to move on to things that are more challenging, but I don't want that to invade on the time at home either."

Unlike past generations, which adhered to more traditional gender roles, casting fathers as breadwinners and mothers as caregivers, Eric and Amy seem to defy gender roles. Eric is both breadwinner and caregiver. Amy is both caregiver and breadwinner. And household chores get split down the middle.

"It never really crossed my mind that I would stay at home or that Eric would expect me to stay at home after we had Jackson," said 33-year-old Amy Adams, who works in public relations. "I went back to work and it felt like the right thing... Feeling fulfilled in that professional setting is very important to my happiness."

For the new generation of young Americans, known as "millenials," traditional gender roles have all but disappeared. Women are every bit as ambitious as men, and men are worried that their jobs are keeping them from their families.

"There certainly is a very dramatic shift," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute. "There is a coming together of the roles that I think was almost unthinkable in the past."

A new study conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that women have become providers as well as nurturers, and men have become nurturers as well as providers. They're also forging more equal partnerships on the home front.

Amy and Eric's 5-year-old son Jackson has grown up with a drastically different picture of gender roles than generations before him. He sees both parents making dinner, both parents doing the dishes and both parents getting him ready for bed each night. And in the morning, both parents go to work.

"Having two parents working outside the household was not something I grew up with," Amy Adams said.

Demographic Shift Brings Gender Revolution

Behind this quiet revolution is a dramatic demographic shift. In 1975, 47 percent of women with children under 18 worked outside the home; now, 71 percent do. Women now account for 44 percent of the income in dual-earner families, according to the Families and Work Institute, and 26 percent earn more money than their husbands.

As men and women share more similar economic roles, gender roles have melted away. Teresa and Jonathan Hopke of Minnesota balance caretaking duties for their son, Kyan.

"If Kyan is sick we look at each of our schedules to see who has the most pressing things to do at work that day," Teresa Hopke told ABC News.

Kirsten Bell of Massachusetts told ABC News, "I quit my job to be home with our first son after he was born, and my husband did the same for our second."

For the Adamses and others in their generation, it's hard to imagine it any other way.

"I cannot imagine it being another way in terms of a mother working outside of the house who also has to keep up with all the domestic duties," Amy Adams said. "I think that would be just nearly impossible. And I think that had to be tremendously stressful on that working mother."

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