The Social and Economic Impact of Evolving Family Dynamics

Published on21 SEP 2015

The structure of the American family has undergone fundamental changes over the last 50 years. To discuss the social implications of these changes, Goldman Sachs welcomed Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project; Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, to a Talks at GS session in New York.

Stevenson, on the evolving roles of men and women: “Historically husbands specialized in bringing in incomes and wives specialized in home production. Today, marriages are more about partnerships of equals where people come together as partners and are going to share activities. We’re more what we call ‘consumption complementarities,' meaning that there’s not specialization anymore. It is households where both people are responsible for bringing home income. Both people are responsible for the home production of caregiving and keeping a house.”

Friedman, on the decision to parent: “[The Wharton Work/Life Integration Project] surveyed the classes of 1992 and 2012 about their lives and asked, ‘Do you plan to have or adopt children?’ In 1992, 79% said yes – men and women. In 2012 that number dropped to 42% for men and women, despite the fact that they still believe having children in your life is something to be valued. So it’s not that the desire has disappeared, but the capacity to make it work given the changes in economics, as well as the roles of men and women in society, have made it a lot more daunting.”

Tanden, on the global landscape around paid parental leave: “Countries ranging from Japan to Italy – who are having some economic growth challenges – definitely see women’s labor force participation as an economic growth strategy. They are making investments in child care and other issues, and they also have a lot of cultural changes they need to address as well. But it’s a much more consensus-oriented issue. Both conservatives and liberals in those countries recognize [paid parental leave] as a sort of non-partisan, non-ideological issue in terms of driving the debate.”

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