Facing new reality

Mothers are now the primary breadwinner in 40 percent of American households with children, up from 11 percent in 1960 when stay-at-home June Cleaver of the TV series "Leave it to Beaver" was the motherly model for the typical home.

We can't say for sure if Mrs. Cleaver had a college degree, but we doubt it. Today women are more likely than men to hold a bachelor's degree and make up about half of the workforce - 47 percent. In most two-parent homes both parents work. In roughly one in four marriages the wife has earned a higher level of formal education, while in 61 percent of marriages the spouses have similar education backgrounds.

These are some of the findings of a new study by the Pew Research Center based on analysis of Census data and more than 1,000 interviews. It is a picture of a changed society, but it should surprise no one who has been paying attention.

Yet in many ways the structure of society has not changed to reflect these realities. Professional child care remains an undervalued and underpaid occupation. Working parents find it challenging to find affordable child care. Most businesses consider it exclusively the parents' problem, offering no provisions to deal with the changed reality of modern households.

The expectation in many workplaces is that employees must physically come to the office at certain hours, disregarding technology that can now allow much work to be done at home - or anywhere - providing parents with flexibility in meeting the needs of their children.

Schools remain largely unchanged from a bygone period, when there was a mom home to greet children dismissed in mid-afternoon. Prolonged summer vacations can be a scheduling nightmare for parents whose work demands do not take a break for summer months.

Some may yearn for a return to traditional roles for men and women, but there will be no going back, nor should there be. Our society is more productive for the fuller inclusion of women in the workplace.

What are called for are changes to provide working parents with the support structure they need. It is time to recognize the need for major adjustments in the way family life and the institutions that surround it are organized.

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