UF study: Men more traditional than women about marriage, children
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Women view childlessness much more favorably than men do, likely because parenting places greater demands on mothers, especially those juggling work and family responsibilities, a new University of Florida study finds.
Parenthood has very different consequences for women compared with men, said Tanya Koropeckyj-Cox, a UF sociologist whose study is published in the November issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family. “Although fathers have become more involved in childcare and housework in recent decades, they provide fewer hours and generally less intensive care on average than mothers,” she said.
The study also found women to be less optimistic about the benefits and permanence of marriage. Women were more likely than men to disagree or give neutral responses to such statements as “it is better to marry than to remain single” and “marriage is for life.”
“The results suggest that women regard both childbearing and marriage as being less central and more optional in women’s lives,” Koropeckyj-Cox said. “Because opportunities for women have changed more rapidly than they have for men over the last 30 years, and with it women’s lives, their attitudes may have also changed in ways that reflect new options and challenges. Women may be asking more questions about whether everyone needs to follow the same path.”
The study of 11,043 adults 25 and older uses data from the 1980s and mid-1990s that were part of two large-scale surveys, the National Survey of Families and Households and the General Social Survey. It assessed attitudes about childlessness by asking such questions as whether “it is better to have a child than to remain childless” and whether “the main purpose of marriage these days is to have children.”
The study found that white women were most accepting of childlessness, followed by black women. Men, regardless of race, were least accepting. Among whites, women were twice as likely as men to have favorable impressions.
The gap in attitudes was particularly wide between college-educated men and women of childbearing age, Koropeckyj-Cox said. Men in this group were the least accepting of childlessness of any group in the study, she said.
“The costs that women experience related to childbearing are greater the higher their level of education in terms of potentially lost income, promotions and opportunities for career advancement,” she said. “For men, however, fatherhood generally brings enhanced status and emotional benefits, with few if any costs in the labor market.”
Positive attitudes toward childlessness also were greater among young and middle-aged adults. Within this age group, women were nearly 80 percent more likely than men to report favorable attitudes toward childlessness, the study found.
“Especially among those who go to college and then go on to professional or managerial positions, it remains difficult to balance childbearing with work,” she said. “This points to the importance of thinking about workplace policies and career timelines that might allow greater flexibility for both men and women to choose a lifestyle that may include children.”
Among religious groups, the study found that Baptists and Jews were least likely to support childlessness, while fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics were not significantly different from other Protestants or those reporting no religion.
“Interestingly, those who approved of living together outside of marriage were less likely to hold positive attitudes about childlessness,” Koropeckyj-Cox said. “We suspect this reflects the view that premarital cohabitation is increasingly accepted as a step toward marriage with children but not as an alternative to conventional marriage and childrearing.”
Receptiveness to childlessness has increased since the 1970s, with Americans waiting longer to become parents, Koropeckyj-Cox said. The average age of first-time mothers is now over 25, and more than a quarter of adults remain childless into their 30s, she said.
Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University and author of the book “Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career and Motherhood,” said Koropeckyj-Cox’s “important findings make it clear that changes in women’s lives are here to stay. While it may seem surprising that women view childlessness more favorably than men, her study should prompt us to jettison our lingering stereotypes and focus instead on helping contemporary women — and men — blend work with parenting.”