PRB Discuss Online: Gender Equality and the Family

(November 2007) The gender revolution in the public sphere has continued apace throughout the industrialized world. Women are leading countries and holding prestigious positions in government, business, and academia. But in the private sphere of the family, much less change has occurred. Women still shoulder most of the responsibilities. For women to reach equality with men, these inequities in the public and private spheres need to be addressed.

During a PRB Discuss Online, Fran Goldscheider, professor emeritus at Brown University and professor at the University of Maryland, answered participants’ questions about gender equality.

Thank you for participating in our Discuss Online session. Due to the large number of questions submitted, Dr. Goldscheider was not able to respond to all of them. If you would like to correspond further with Dr. Goldscheider, you can e-mail her at

November 27, 2007 1 PM EST

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Sophie: What is being done to eliminate the inequities that is experienced by women? What role are men playing in this situation?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Of course, not enough is being done to eliminate the inequalities experienced by women, but some is. Firms in the U.S. are increasingly recognizing that their employees are more, not less productive when they know their families are safe and cared for, but this mostly applies to more highly paid (less interchangeable) employees; there are horrific stories of women leaving their kids in the car (or even its trunk) when their daycare fails in order to avoid losing their jobs (but sometimes losing their kids). Men (fathers) can do a lot more, too, and should, but for many men it’s difficult when your boss thinks your taking time off for sick kids means you’re not serious about the job. And I would add that women can do more, by being more willing to share child care in marriage and custody afterwards with the fathers of their kids.

Richard Cincotta: European statistics show that in northern Europe, about half of all women in older age groups are bearing their children unmarried. Is this trend among older women emerging in the U.S. as well? And if so, is marriage becoming less important to family formation for working women?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Northern Europe is very different from the US in terms of marriage, cohabitation, and single parenthood. As a result, statistics on single parenthood are very misleading for northern Europe. Given the much higher level and duration of cohabitation in northern Europe, a much smaller proportion of northern European unmarried women are truly heading ‘single-parent families’; rather, they are cohabiting, even after several children are born. Most expect to and actually marry eventually (I could provide citations). (Further, nearly all women in northern Europe are employed, if you count family leave, as they do.)

vanishree: When women move from private sphere to public sphere, experience in Indian context shows increase in divorce and it amounts to huge increase in single parent which has its own sociological implications. how this can be challenged?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I am not familiar with the Indian family context, but the move of women in the labor force has been hugely disruptive nearly everywhere, particularly when there is little government or employer support for their families and their spouses expect them to maintain their full home duties at the same time. So I’m not surprised that divorce rates increase. This can be partially mitigated by time (as more people get used to it and adjust), but particularly by 1) the provision of institutional support for families, especially childcare, since the next generation of grandmothers will themselves be employed and no longer available; and 2) a general acceptance by men that “in families where both partners are employed, both should share the care of the home and children” as the popular gender role attitudes item asks people to agree/disagree with.

Steve Nock: Research appears to suggest that childcare and related household tasks continue to fall more heavily on wives and mothers (even as the household becomes less gendered, women continue to elect part-time work). What do forsee as the future in the relationship between work and family as this relates to gender equality in the home?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I think we will continue to make progress—men are now doing much more than their fathers did—tho likely with setbacks, like the macho response to 9-11. Men are now cutting back on THEIR work hours, at least younger men, when there are young children at home, as Kaufman and Uhlenberg showed in their Social Forces article.

Frederick K Jongane: Can gender equality be maintained in less developed areas / worlds?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Dr. Jongane, I addressed this in my answer to Dr. Hasan; it is my hope that less developed areas will achieve gender equality in less time than it is taking more developed areas, but in either place it is a long process.

Don Strong: Dear Prof. Goldscheider: What are the most gender-equal societies in the world and what are the social and historical courses that these societies too[k]to this position?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Of course, there is always argument on such a point, as there are many dimensions of gender equality. But Sweden seems to me to be the leader, in that a substantial proportion of fathers now take at least some family leave to care for their new child while their wife works, and there is near universal agreement that when both partners work full time, both should share the care of home and family. But of course, there is still much for Swedish feminists to complain of. Historically, things look much the same as in other industrialized countries, with the initial post-war baby boom leading to glorified housewifery. However, there was also a strong policy orientation (less laissez fair, as it were), that there should be institutions in place that (as the Myrdals said) workers should be able to have families. So day care was instituted for children >2, and gradually a family leave system was put in place that meant that families do not HAVE to send children to daycare until they are nearly two.

Sadia Dilshad Parveen: Dear Prof. Goldscheider: Experience in most of the developing world shows that gender and women’s empowerment programs are doing a very good job in helping women attain their due status in society. However, this has not percolated to the confines of the home, no matter whether it is that of an educated couple we are talking about, and also irrespective of their soci-economic status. Would you agree that it is time for gender and women’s empowerment programs to also focus on the men together with the women? After all, these programs may be opening the eyes of the woman, but what can she do if the man’s eyes still remain closed? Your thoughts on the matter would be most valuable.
Frances K. Goldscheider: Yes, of course I feel that any program that changes the gender balance in one sphere (say the public one of education, work, and earnings) should be conscious of the need to change the balance in the private sphere of the home and family relationships. But my guess is that even so, it will take at least a generation for change; the family is a pretty traditional institution. But it has changed many times over the ages within countries and differs dramatically between countries, making it clear that it’s not THAT inflexible!

Agatha Onovo: Do you think Gender equality is feasible in an African community like Nigeria. It may be on paper but not addressed in real life. Because of our cultural heritage and practices like wife inheritance, widowhood rites preference for male children etc. I can’t imagin our men accepting Husband inheritance or our society getting to the point where baby girls will be celeberated.
Frances K. Goldscheider: It is indeed hard to imagine, but many of the changes you have seen in your own life would have been hard to imagine a generation or two ago. They will come. . . .

Nankinga Margaret: What have you got to say about culture and gender equality? Here in Uganda many women are now the bread earners of their families but even then the man still maintains his traditional superiority. Should such a woman vie for equality, the first critics will be fellow women blaming her for ‘wanting to be man’ of the family’ Can culture and gender equality lie in the same bed?
Frances K. Goldscheider: There will always be critics, but eventually, as more men discover that a family is better off with two incomes, they will need to compromise to get a earning wife by being more helpful with the home and children-or lose her to someone who will be helpful.

osunsanmi gbolabo: In Africa and Nigeria Gender Equality is often seen as Women empowerment politically are the two the same?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I really don’t know how the terms are used. But as women become more equal economically, their political power should increase and vice versa.

Nkosinathi Ngcobo: Whilst it could be generally argued that the world today (male dominated) is starting to acknowledge the significance of the role of women in the process of human development, the truth of the matter is that globally women in rural social contexts are still defined according to the relationship they have with men. This is lrgely charactirised with gross exploitation (socioeconomic and political). How best can different societies in the globe work together to address this pitfall?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Countries can best work together by emphasizing the importance of equality in BOTH the public and private spheres of life. Women who can earn independently (AND control their fertility) will eventually be seen as independent people who no man can control totally.

Oswell Rusinga: What is the difference between gender and feminism? Can feminism be socially and culturally defined? The two concepts seems as if they overlap in Zimbabwe. The challenge is that how does gender equality can be promoted in a patriarchal family within the socio-economic and cultural context?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I actually do not call myself a ‘feminist’ but rather an ‘egalitarian’ as in some instances in the industrialized countries, women actually have more power than men—particularly over childbearing, childrearing, and child custody.

Mahmudul Hasan: Question: How women can be empowered in developing countries like Bangladesh?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Hasan: I am actually very interested to see whether currently developing countries can accomplish this “modernization” task much more efficiently than occurred in the now industrialized countries, much as they did for mortality decline and as many of them have done for fertility decline. One of the biggest problems in the developed countries is that despite the twin declines in children ever born and in the need for muscular strength (the major pillars of gender differentiation), those countries went in the opposite direction, glorifying differences. Women were delighted to escape from the hard drudgery of farm work to the domestic tasks, leading to increased gender specialization. It is almost shocking to see how many more hours per week American women spent on housework in the 1950s than they do now, as work expanded to fill the hours they needed to fill (with, as Bianchi has shown, no difference in child care hours). Hopefully, the developing countries can take the fast route to gender equality, family-friendly workplaces, and adequate childcare, perhaps by taking advantage of the “demographic dividend” that they will have for a generation, as longer-living grandparents can temporarily fill in the childcare gap (which will not work once today’s working mothers become grandmothers and continue to be employed rather than helping out with the families of their sons/daughters).

Janet Huber Lowry: What will it take for men to change to help with gender equality in the family?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Greater willingness would help, supported by expectations at work and among their male friends and relatives that such behavior is appropriate. We’re getting there, but it’s slow. Their wives/partners can also help by not insisting that everything be done ‘their way.’ No one takes kindly to being just an assistant.

Raquel Guimarães: As it was highlighted on the call for questions for this forum in the PRB online news: “Women still shoulder most of the responsibilities. It is important, however, to distinguish between gender inequalities in housework (which men resist sharing) and in childrearing (which women resist sharing)”. Could you explain why woman is resisting to give men responsabilities of the childbearing? Does it is not caused by a pre-conceived view of the rules imposed by the society, which says that the woman is the only one who can take care of the child in a best way – and so the women has accepted this idea historically?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Women resist sharing childrearing more than housework because for most women, childrearing is even more tied to their feminine identify than are many (perhaps even most) dimensions of housework. At least this is true in the west, after 100 years of the “separate spheres” in which men left the household agricultural economy to work, leaving women and small children in the home. (There is much evidence that in the earlier agricultural household economy, men were much involved in the training and character development of their children, at least after early babyhood, and not only for their sons, as a daughter’s marrying well made a big difference in her parents’ lives in old age.) My sense is that women tend to feel about sharing child care much as men in the early years of the automobile felt about sharing the car—women didn’t understand, wouldn’t do it properly, etc. I frequently notice the feeling among women that men are at best ineffectual and at worst unsafe caregivers of children.

Sergio DellaPergola: Dear Fran, my research in Israel shows the emerging of a positive relationship between women’s educational attainment and their preferred number of children. Do you think that women’s empowerment and their growing role at the upper levels of education, employment and independent income might result in some fertility incresaes in other developed countries? Best regards, Sergio
Frances K. Goldscheider: Dear Sergio, I’m very excited to hear about your research findings, of an emerging positive relationship between women’s educational attainment and their preferred number of children. I have also seen this emerging for marriage. Although they marry later, more educated women in the US are more likely to get married and stay married than less educated women, who are the source of much of the ‘true’ single parent families here. This is what is predicted in my argument, 15 years ago, in New Families, No Families, that what I call “the second half” of the gender revolution (the first being women’s entry into the public sphere, the 2nd being men’s increased engagement with their families) could be pro-natalist rather than anti-natalist. A lot of research supporting this view is now coming out of Europe. E.g., Families in which men use a portion of the parental leave benefit for the first child move more rapidly to a 2nd child. Related results have appeared for Italy (working women only), Germany, and, I think, Hungary. Would love to see YOUR results!

Silvia Giorguli: Dear Fran: To what extent the combination of childrearing and having a “successful” career for women is possible through the participation of other women (such as nannies or other female relatives) that overtake the roles of working mothers? That would mean a reproduction of a traditionial division of labor but with the responsiblity transferred to other women.
Frances K. Goldscheider: Hi, Silvia! Re relatives, this is an excellent transitional strategy, as they tend not to be otherwise employed. I say ‘transitional’ because in the cohorts to come, there will be fewer such relatives available, as THEY will be employed. Re nannies, this strategy rests on high levels of income inequality, so that working parents can pay someone else and not take all of the 2nd salary to pay for childcare. High inequality, such as in the US, also provides poorly paid, high turnover child care workers. But 2 job families want good childcare, and our societies need the children to receive it, which means institutionalization, good salaries, and gov’t support. None of our children likely would have gotten a good education (nor ourselves) if our parents had had to bear the full cost of elementary and high schools.

shayesteh jahanfar: Dear prof. Can we assess the success of “gender equality” in each society by the incidence of violence against women (incest, rape, domestic violence,…)? Or is there no link between these two variables at all?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I’m not an expert in this area, but I see it as a symptom of change, in which some men, as they lose power in the labor market, express their ability to physically dominate the women in their lives. It is my hope that if this link exists, it is transitional, and when a new gender balance is achieved and people’s expectations have changed, women can be safer in their homes and on the streets.

Nalina Varanasi: Dear Professor,I have 2 questions:1.How do you think we can measure bargaining power of wives within the family? 2.What factors lead to an increase in female bargaining power, that is, do we need to bring a psychological change in the way women think they should function within the family or is it more like changes in access to education and employment opportunities for women? Thanks for your comments in advance.
Frances K. Goldscheider: As a quantitative social scientist, I’ve only seen bargaining power measured by outcomes (e.g., as women earn more, they spend more on themselves and their children; as men earn more, they spend more on themselves). And I’m a structuralist, i.e., increased education and the employment opportunities that normally accompany it will bring about changes in men’s and women’s thougts/psychology.

esther-Ann Asch: How important is it that we elect a woman today in the US and how do we encourage young women to get involved and run for elections?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I think a lot of women are running for elections, but this is not an area of my expertise. I would be happier electing women who are not the wives of powerful men, though given marital homogamy on education and occupational attainment, it’s not surprising that so many women candidates are either the wives or widows of politically powerful men.

Kiggundu Patrick: How or what have women done to reduce the gap between men and women gender roles?
Frances K. Goldscheider: The biggest factor reducing the gap in gender roles involves women getting education comparable with men’s. This leads to better jobs, an income that benefits their families (including their husbands), and the ability to negotiate within marriage as the possibility of leaving is real.

Abimbola Onigbanjo: Greetings,In Nigeria, we have had various workshops on promoting gender equality in the family and various interventions have been carried out. On the streets, not much differences have been made in promoting the girl child education who are rather introduced into early marriage. My question is what other intervention strategies can be used in promoting the girl child education in a developing country like Nigeria where poverty is still a menance in our society.Thanks
Frances K. Goldscheider: Try to increase women’s education any way you can! (AND men’s!) Laws requiring educational attendance and forbidding early marriage and employment are not a full answer, but they help. And obviously, using the short run oil money to build infrastructure is key.

Fuqin Liu: Dear Professor Goldscheider, How would you look at gender equality in terms of childbearing decision-making in a constraining environment (e.g. the state regulates the family size, etc)?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I think there is a literature on the effect of policy strength on female outcomes (Susan Short, a colleague of mine at Brown, has done some of this). We hear too much about female adoption, infanticide, abortion, etc., and not enough on how well surviving girls (the vast majority) do in families with no boys.

Ken Ozoemenam: Why has gender eqaulity become synonymous with promotion of single motherhood and divorce, leading to increasing rate of family disintegration amongst the industrialised countries who also claim to make progress in achieving gender equality?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Few of the industrialized countries have made much progress in achieving gender equality in the home. I see the growth in divorce and single motherhood as transitional phenomena, in which women react to ‘the second shift’–having both to work and take care of the home, and likely accede to a patriarchal relationship–by walking. The younger generation of men are increasing more willing to compromise on housework and childcare to obtain a high earning wife. And divorce rates are lower when the husband has more egalitarian attitudes.

Ikirimat Grace: Women are sometimes their own enemies to emanicipation and gender equality. What can be done about this in a developing country where culture and poverty are the main hinderence to gender equality?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I think that’s a bit unfair; all folks need to decide whether the ‘new’ ways or the ‘old’ ways are better for them. The anti-feminist movement in the US was very successful scaring women about how difficult it would be to be independent–without a man.

Adetunji John Gbenga: In the face of most African cultures that see women as a weaker sex that must be submissive to men, how can women emancipation be achieved without eroding our cultural values?
Frances K. Goldscheider: All cultures change; my guess is that there is also respect for women built into most African cultures, as well and what is needed to emphasize the positives of gender equality, not the negatives.

Walter Manuel Firmino: Family equality depends mostly on the quality of education the family members have. My question is what are the world leaders doing to counter the informal education especially in Africa which against women leadership and girls are seen as objects. In Africa a man should not respect a woman
Frances K. Goldscheider: I’m not an expert on Africa, but there are many African cultures, which vary greatly on gender issues.

Tess: Why do you feel the US has been so slow to have the first women president in comparison to other countries?
Frances K. Goldscheider: This is not my area of expertise, Tess, but my guess is that the 2-party system discourages innovation.

Ken Ozoemenam: Gender eqaulity is increasingly perceived by most deeply religious people in many countries of the global south as a direct threat to the survival of the family concept which they hold very dear. Very high rates of divorces, sexual perversion and deviance associated with the industrialised countries that are championing the cause of gender equality tend to confirm the fear of many people about destruction of family life under the guise of gender eqaulity. How do gender experts (most of whom are either multiple divorcees, LGBTs or aged singles) respond to these issues and allay such fears?
Frances K. Goldscheider: Often times, fear of change is ‘hooked’ to religious values, but it is simply not true that perversion and deviance, not to mention divorce, are higher in industrialized countries. In Goode’s study of ‘World Patterns of Divorce’ (or something like that) he found that the HIGHEST levels of divorce were found in parts of sub-saharan Africa. And I’m sure that most gender experts are normal heterosexuals who are trying to save the family, not destroy it.

J Kishore: Respected Madam, Family is home of inequality particularly against females. I can certainly say that our systems such as religion, culture, beliefs which make the family a reality is the source of this inequality. What measures we should adopt to check the adverse effects of the religions, faiths, etc.
Frances K. Goldscheider: Increased education, and reforming religious institutions to respect gender equality, should do the trick. Many gender egalitarians find ways to be very religious.

Peta-Ann Long: I fully agree with the issue of gender inequalities within both the private and public spheres. However, demographics show an significant difference in favour of females with the population, and with fewer men, there are few male role models within the households (private sphere). This illustrates a major problem within the public sphere and the development and achievement of the male population. Also, with the rise in concern of female rights and the want/need for equality with men, there has been a bias to women in the public sphere, and as such and inequality for men. This is also another major issue. Men are reducing in job-roles, and as such women have an increase responsiblity of home-maker, and bread-winner. This can be seen as a result in women playing on their own strengths to make up for their weaknesses. Do you think these factors, and generalization as correct and will posses a problem/issue in the pursue for gender equality
Frances K. Goldscheider: There are a lot of different questions here, Peta-Ann, but I wouldn’t worry about the lake male role models based on gender differences in mortality. And while there are surely some jobs that favor women (not just nursing, but also some departments in universities), most prefer men.

Zhenyu(Jenny) Li: Why women don’t get paid like men? Why it exists for a long time and cannot eradicate it? What could females do to protect their rights today, no matter their education levels or work positions? How to strive for equal pay injustice in court? How do feminists think about this problem and how to deal with it?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I am not an expert on this public-sphere issue (equal pay) but it is my understanding from recent studies that the difference has greatly diminished. And I’m sure the courts have helped, but also simple job competition. When women break out of the mostly-women type jobs, they get access to male salaries.

Kiggundu Patrick: What are women doing to enable men join them in the roles they shoulder? What have the empowered women done to help other females in achieving equality especially for gender roles
Frances K. Goldscheider: Wise women encourage rather than disparage men’s efforts around the home (can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that a man/husband or an adolescent boy can’t run a washing machine). In the public sphere, many women are mentoring younger women; I certainly tried to do that with junior faculty and graduate students (including encouraging the guys to be involved with their homes and kids).

Fatou Jah: Dear Frances Goldscheider, Thank you for raising these thought provoking issues regarding gender equality in the family. Your conclusion that to attain gender equality, and in my opinion even equality across all social groups, these inequities in the public and private spheres need to be resolved is very apt. Your point in the need to differentiate between between gender differences in housework (which men resist sharing) and in child-rearing (which women resist sharing) is also very apt. I wish to make some observations, though. First, in some developing settings, women would not resist but would very much welcome sharing their household and childrearing duties if/when they ever had/have the option to do. Second, I believe that progress is being made in the developed world in that gendered roles in the public sphere are becoming more fluid, albeit slowly; take the US for example. On the other hand, I don’t see similar progress occurring soon in some parts of the developing world.
Thank you.
Fatou Jah
PhD candidate
Population and Development and Demography
Field of Development Sociology
Cornell University.
Frances K. Goldscheider: Thank you for your kind words, Fatou. Actually, I am optimistic that the developing world will reach gender equality in a shorter time in the course of industrialization that the 150 years it’s taken the west to get even as far as we have. It is important to be optimistic and take the long view; change on these issues is rarely rapid. But it’s happening.

vanishree: When women move from private to public sphere, particularly in the Indian context, the rate of divorce is increased. It amounts to the huge number of single parents which ultimately has its own sociological and psychological implications. How this can be challenged?
Frances K. Goldscheider: I read the data as saying that the increases in the divorce rate are transitional. As societies moved from shifting to settled agriculture, the divorce rate declined; now educated women again are more independent from men and men have not yet adapted to sharing the household burdens even though their wives are often sharing the providing burdens. When this inequality is reduced, love, companionship, children, and shared histories will again be the important sources keeping couples together.

Abimbola Onigbanjo: In Nigeria, we’ve had various workshops addressing gender equality in the family, but on the streets the girl child education is still far behind as many mothers would rather see their male child children in school. the girls are faced with early marriage. my question is what other strategies can you devise in promoting the girl child education in a developing country, Nigeria
Frances K. Goldscheider: Parents are rational, and if the payoff to their scarce resources is greater in educating their sons than th