Wilcox and Sturgeon: Millennials’ Attitudes Trending Toward the Traditional

April 12, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s tempting to write off this piece by Brad Wilcox and Samuel Sturgeon as the regrettably misandric and data-selective piece that it undeniably is. But, despite the accuracy of those descriptors, it also contains a germ or two of worthwhile information we’d be remiss in failing to mention (Washington Post, 4/5/17).

First those germs of information. According to the General Social Survey, the number of young Americans who say they favor the traditional norm of Dad being the primary breadwinner and Mom being the primary parent has risen steadily since its nadir in 1994. The statement respondents were asked to agree or disagree with was “it is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” In the 1970s, 48% of people aged 18 – 25 agreed; in the 80s the number was 27%, in the 90s, 22%, in the 2000’s, it was 26% and in the teens it’s now 28%.

In short, there’s a clear, if gradual trend, away from the strict egalitarianism fantasized by some feminists in the 1970s.

That’s germ No. 1. Germ No. 2 is that those same young people express the attitude that women should be free to choose what, if anything, they do outside the home, but should be the primary parent in the family. That is, the choice to work for pay or not, to work part or full-time, the choice to be a stay-at-home-parent, are a woman’s to make, free of any criticism. The male in the relationship of course is not so liberated. His job is, well, his job. Period.

Now, people’s attitudes can be interesting and, if these seem to indicate something about the meanderings of American culture, then as such, they’re worth knowing.

So much for the good news.

The bad begins with the headline on Wilcox and Sturgeon’s piece, “Why would millennial men prefer stay at home wives? Race and feminism.” Now, you might think that any article so titled might have something to do with (a) men’s preferences, (b) race and (c) feminism. In the event, it has almost nothing to do with any of those.

In fact, the analysis of the GSS data done by sociologists Joanna Pepin and David Cotter refers not to what men prefer in a female partner, but to what both young men and women see as the ideal arrangement for married partners raising children. It is true that more men than women in all ethnic categories agree that “it is better if women take care of the home and family,” but that’s in no way reflected in the headline. The simple fact is that, for both sexes, preference for traditional roles is on the upswing.

As to race, the change in the data have a lot to do with the increase in the Hispanic population of the United States. Hispanics tend to be more traditional in their views of male and female roles and so an increase in their representation reliably results in an increase in traditional expressions of sex roles. That Wilcox and Sturgeon apparently believe “Hispanic” to be a “race” does little other than point up the general sloppiness of their thinking.

That of course is emphasized by their conclusion that millennials’ embrace of “choice feminism” is also a driving force behind the trend. Their evidence? None. No, for them, just making an assertion of fact apparently means the fact exists.

It also seems to be fueled by the rise of choice feminism, a style of feminism that emphasizes women’s right to choose the lives they want without judgment…

Instead, a growing number of young women (and men) embraced a “choice feminism” that suggested that it was fine for mothers to be stay-at-home mothers or part-time workers, so long as they decided to pursue this path of their own volition.

Citation? Why do the authors claim that something called “choice feminism” had anything to do with this trend? What is their evidence that any significant percentage of the respondents adhere to the said “choice feminism?” Wilcox and Sturgeon give no hint.

Are they aware that only about 18% of Americans even call themselves feminists, much less adhere to its tenets so doggedly as to arrange their lives around one, but not another version of that movement? The numbers alone argue persuasively that, whatever the respondents report their attitudes to be, feminism of any kind likely had little or nothing to do with it.

Then of course there’s that question posed by the headline. Wilcox and Sturgeon make no effort to answer it. That’s understandable, I suppose, given that the attitudes reported by Pepin and Cotter strongly indicate that it isn’t the men but the women whose preferences matter. Here’s how Wilcox and Sturgeon describe those attitudes:

an ethic of equal opportunity for women in the public sphere, even as they embrace an ethic of gender specialization in the private sphere.

Stated another way, if the woman in a relationship chooses to work for pay, millennials’ attitudes support that choice. If she chooses to work part-time, the same holds true. If she chooses to not work at all, ditto. As to the children, they believe she should be the primary parent. Dad? His job is to work and earn, as ever. The clear suggestion is that those answering the survey believe in greater freedom for women than for men, at least within families. Whether that’s a “traditional” viewpoint I’ll allow others to decide.

Tomorrow, I’ll take on some of the more striking of Wilcox and Sturgeon’s errors and omissions.




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