WASHINGTON — For a long time, Lucia Gilbert couldn't get men to talk about what was going on in their dual-career lives. "It was like, 'Oh yes, talk to my wife.' "
But about five years ago, the University of Texas psychologist began to notice a startling difference. "All at once," she said, "the men were saying, 'Hey, how come you're not talking to us?' "
Which was exactly what Gilbert wanted to do. As studies were beginning on women in dual-career families, Gilbert said, "what was happening was that everyone was assuming that women were making the dramatic changes, women were adding their careers on to everything else. When you looked at all the conflict this caused for women, of course the reality was that other things were changing, too, but we kept on sticking with this traditional model."
Continued Focus on Women
Two major areas continued to grab researchers' attention, Gilbert told a meeting of the American Psychological Assn. here not long ago: "How the woman was relating with the man in her ongoing relationship, and how she was conceptualizing the family."
Meanwhile, "men were going through some of the same changes, and some of their own." But, Gilbert said, "Men felt that they were not being understood, that nobody was even asking about them and that everyone was assuming they hadn't changed at all, that women were doing everything, all the changing."
Gilbert, a professor of educational psychology, knew a good study area when she saw one. It took her very little time to embark on the investigation of men in dual-career families that eventually filled a book: "Men in Dual-Career Families: Current Realities and Future Prospects" (Lawrence Erlbaum; Hillsdale, N.J.; $22.50).
She began, however, with certain stipulations. For one thing, she stressed the difference between a dual-earner family, where the woman was working solely out of economic necessity, and the dual-career family, in which "women, similar to men, view what they do outside the home as very important to their lives."
Dual-career families were too new, too varied to fit any single mold, Gilbert determined. "There is no one dual-career family," she said. And while "it is the concept of equity that best describes the dual-career family," not everything within those families, said Gilbert, "divides neatly down the middle." Role-sharing is an ideal, she said, one that "underlies the whole concept of the dual-career family." In fact, she said, "there is no one of these families that is truly egalitarian."
Gilbert's study focused on 85 dual-career families in the Austin-San Antonio area. Most fit the conventional "white middle class" label, with the men ages 28 to 45. All had been married at least two years, and some were in second marriages. In all the families, both husband and wife were working full time. Some had children, but all of those who did not said they were planning to have at least one child.
What she found was that dual-career families tended to divide along three lines. There was, first of all, what she termed the "traditional" dual-career family, where "indeed there are two careers in the family, but she does all the family work and he just does his career." In these families, numbering about one-third of her study sample, the man clings to the idea that work within the home is women's work. While also expanding her own career, the woman in these families accepts and acts upon the same premise.
The traditional dual-career families, Gilbert said, tended to have more children, and tended to express the desire for more children. Far more professionally ambitious than their wives, the men in these families also showed significantly higher incomes than their wives. Still, Gilbert said, the man in this household was "very, very proud" of his wife, and wanted "to encourage her in her professional work." Moreover, in spite of a seeming imbalance of work load, "there is a sense of equity that they feel about their relationship. The sense of equity is what's important."
At the other extreme, and approaching the ideal image of the dual-career family, was the "role-sharing" couple. "In these," Gilbert said, "for both the man and the woman, their self-concept really involves the active integration of occupational and family roles." A man in this situation is what feminists call successfully reconstructed.
"These are the modern men," Gilbert said. "They are likely to say 'I don't think it is right for a woman to do all that,' meaning housework and so forth. If you look at what they do in the relationship, they are right in there, changing the diapers, doing the grocery shopping," and adding "the family role" to what is generally a fairly rigid work situation.