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Female-oriented advertising consultanting group Women at NBCU put out a press release documenting a survey it did of women regarding family life, a press release that was all but faithfully reprinted at the Salt Lake Tribune. It's a delicious example of how to generate a whole bunch of words out of meaningless nonsense. Women at NBCU claims to have discovered that American women and men are getting more home-y, domestic, and traditional, but the questions the group asked to get this information should provoke skepticism instead of belief.
For instance, the survey found that 66 percent of mothers would rather be a stay-at-home mother than a working parent, which is touted as strong evidence of some genuine enthusiasm for '50s-era living. But the same survey found that 36 percent of men also said they wanted to stay at home, which is the antithesis of tradition. It appears what this survey is measuring isn't some widespread desire to find fulfillment through homemaking so much as a widespread desire to not have to work for a living. Since the question was asked of men and women who had already indicated financial necessity as a reason to work, these results aren't unexpected, since people are assuming you're asking if they'd like to be wealthy enough that work is optional. If you'd asked people, "Would you like a rich relative to die so that you could never work a day again?" you'd probably see a lot of enthusiasm for that fantasy, as well. I'm a rowdy feminist, but if you suggested that I could spend my life baking cookies without nary a worry of money again, I'd probably indulge that fantasy for a minute, too. I'd bet a question that brought more of the realities of housewifery into view---stay-at-home mothers are more than twice as likely to live in poverty---would produce many times less enthusiasm. That would be especially true if women were reminded that a single-breadwinner home means having to ask your spouse for any and all money that you spend.
I also have to quarrel with this: "Moms reported that the 'breakdown of the traditional family' was the second most serious issue facing children today, right after drug abuse." Interesting. I wonder what the options they were provided were, since in reality the most pressing problem probably facing children today is poverty---nearly one in five children live in poverty. But the wording of "breakdown of the traditional family" is so vague as to be meaningless. I'm sure married women answering this question are quick to latch onto that, because divorce is a very real and scary threat and that answer echoes their direct fears. If you were to ask me what the most serious problems facing cohabitating women in their 30s are these days, I'd probably be distracted by you tossing in "your boyfriend turns out to be a cheating louse and you had no idea" with a list of other things like "employment opportunities" and "health insurance concerns." Had they been more specific about what a "traditional family" is, however, I bet they'd get different results. If women were asked whether or not they think that it's good for children to be raised in a society with legal marital rape, a blind eye toward domestic violence, and an inability of women to sue for divorce if their husbands walk out on them---all markers of the "traditional" family---I'm guessing you'd get a different answer. Same story if you asked women if they'd be better off if they weren't allowed to have their own bank accounts or to borrow money on their own, since allowing women to control their own money is part of the breakdown of the "traditional" family. The problem with using the word "traditional" on a survey is that it's a feel-good word that encourages people to look at the past with rose-colored glasses. It invokes Christmas trees and cardigans, dinner at Grandma's, and church weddings. It doesn't invoke unhappy marriages from which there is no escape, though of course that's a far more relevant aspect of "traditional" marriages than the color of your wedding gown.
Of course, one alternate reading for this survey is they simply found the most delusional group of women alive: "60 percent of moms believe that in 10 to 20 years there will be as many stay-at-home dads as there are stay-at-home moms." Unless we have some drastic, rioting-in-the-streets level of social change, this belief simply cannot come into fruition. There are 5 million stay-at-home mothers in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. There are, according to the same survey, 154,000 stay-at-home fathers. In other words, there are 32 times as many stay-at-home mothers in the U.S. than stay-at-home fathers. The level of social change required to even those numbers out would be revolutionary, and there's no real indication that this level of change is on the horizon.
Today's moms are aspiring to be modern day June Cleavers, according to a just released Women at NBCU study. At the most unconventional time in motherhood, where only 4% of today's families fall into the US Census definition of "traditional," a remarkable 49% of moms say "Traditional" is the number one parenting style they aspire to be. Reflecting this bent towards values of a different era, an astounding 77% of the moms surveyed prefer to have children with good manners over good grades.
And while moms continue to make inroads in the workforce, interestingly, their aspirations are changing as well. In another sign that they are embracing a more traditional lifestyle, 66% of moms say they would rather be a stay-at-home parent than a working parent. Additionally, the majority of employed moms (53%) feel that while financially they need to work, they would prefer to be stay-at-home moms. The rift between reality and aspiration has never been wider, supported by the startling fact that only 12% of moms in the study say they believe they are very accurately portrayed in advertising.
"Although moms are not saying they want to go back to the 1950s, they are clinging to certain values and traditions associated with that time period," said Melissa Lavigne-Delville, VP of Trends and Strategic Insights, Integrated Media at NBCUniversal. "There's a backlash to the complexity of current conditions like the economy and fragmented families. Brands with strong "roots" have an opportunity to play up their heritage or consider resurrecting brand assets from this past. Ultimately, though, women will need products and services that are modern and can keep pace with their everyday realities – traditional cannot mean 'old school.'"
According to the study, dads' aspirations are shifting dramatically, too. More than 1/3 of dads (36%) would prefer to be a stay-at-home parent than a working parent. Additionally, while dads claim they are pitching in at home more than fathers of previous generations, perceptions about the actual amount of housework diverges between partners: 61% of dads say they split the household labor and childcare equally with their partner, while only 27% of moms feel the home workload is evenly split.
The survey also shed light on the fact that, ironically, the most technically-connected generation of moms, Gen Y's (18-32 years old), are the ones who actually feel most out of touch. Nearly twice as many Gen Y's (42%) as Gen X's (24%) felt isolated when they first became mothers. This is, in part, attributed to the fact that women are becoming mothers at all different ages and, thus, cannot necessarily relate to their peers. Unlike previous eras, first-time motherhood can span four decades.
Other noteworthy findings from Women at NBCU's new family study include:
60% of moms believe that in 10-20 years there will be as many stay-at-home dads as there are stay-at-home moms.
Moms reported that the "breakdown of the traditional family" was the second most serious issue facing children today, right after drug abuse.
31% of moms reveal that they tend to linger longer in the shower, while running errands, on appointments or during a commute, just to find a little more alone time during the day.
30% of moms believe that in order to keep up with today's competitiveness, a child's education begins at or even before birth.
Moms chose Reese Witherspoon as the celebrity mom they most identified with.
Nationally representative survey among 3,224 moms and 403 dads fielded in June and August of 2011. In addition we conducted 8 in-home ethnographies with moms, 8 in-home focus groups with moms and 1 focus group with dads.
About Women At NBCU:
Launched in May 2008, Women at NBCU is a powerful combination of media assets reaching women across multiple platforms. This ad sales, marketing and research initiative creates custom solutions for advertisers to connect with female consumers via NBCUniversal's wide portfolio, including Oxygen, Style, iVillage, Telemundo, Sprout, DailyCandy, Bravo, "TODAY," as well as other female-skewing primetime shows on NBC. With its television, digital, and new media platforms, NBCUniversal reaches 95% of U.S. women per month and is home to six of the top ten cable networks with the highest concentration of mom viewers 18-49.