Opt-Out 'Revolution' Fizzles (Again)


Something seemed achingly familiar about a front-page story in yesterday's Washington Post. The headline screamed, in part, "Despite 'Mommy Guilt,' Time With Kids Increasing." As one who has devoted much of her career to covering stories affecting women, families, and communities of color, I knew I'd heard this before. So I went online and searched for similar stories. Lo and behold, I came across this front-page story (registration required) that ran last October in the New York Times.

It was based on the same exact study released in October 2006 that the Post ran on its front page this week. In the online version of the Post story, the top of the second page includes the sentence, "In all, the research, published in the fall, tells a complex story of family trade-offs and cultural shifts–over a span of years when U.S. mothers entered the workforce as never before and the number of families headed by single mothers jumped markedly."

Ah, so on the "jump" page the paper admits it is headlining old news. Still I'm glad the story ran, because it seems to indicate a reversal in media hype of the now widely discredited "Opt-Out Revolution."

More on the "Revolution" that never was in a moment. The gist of the University of Maryland survey is that modern stressed-out, work-and-family-juggling parents are doing better by their children than they think. The study shows that mothers and fathers today actually spend more time with their children than did their parents. It dispels the widespread misconception of the June Cleaver-era homemaker who devoted most of her time to children.

On average, mothers today, most of whom juggle jobs outside the home, dedicate more than 14 hours each week to their children. In 1965, the average mother spent four hours less with kids. And it's not just mothers. In 2003, fathers reported spending seven hours a week primarily with their children, up from two and a half hours some 40 years earlier.

Meanwhile, the Opt-Out Revolution (originally a New York Times Magazine cover story) keeps taking more and more hits. The claim that high-powered career women are abandoning work when children come along is being more and more thoroughly debunked by various media outlets each day. The American Prospect, a liberal magazine, has a special section devoted to the topic that is must reading.