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Students expect equal opportunities to work, but unequal duties at home

New A&M study examines

Most college students believe women should have equal opportunities to work outside the home, a new Texas A&M University study says, but they also think women should handle most household chores and childcare needs — though it’s okay for men to help with these tasks.  

“A lot of the research done in the past has found that college-attending, heterosexual young adults at primarily White institutions, particularly young women, expect that they’re going to do more of the household labor and childcare in their future,” said Allegra Midgette, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts. “They believe that women should be able to work outside [the home], but not so much that their male partner should be equally involved with the chores and childcare responsibilities inside.”

Midgette’s purpose for the study was to understand how young adults are making sense of balancing work and family life, after other studies highlighted the demographic’s expectation to have both in their futures. To gauge how these roles would be negotiated, the participants were given survey questions surrounding two “tension embedded” scenarios — should mothers with preschool-aged children be working? And should a husband who’s tired from working outside the home help out with chores at home?

“I wasn’t surprised that most young adults in the studies said they think women should be able to work, but I was surprised by this language of the moms being limited by having children.” Midgette shared. “There was also little talk about the married mother having her partner do the childcare, or how they expect this to be balanced. There’s a focus on women and mothers having their own ability to go out, but less talk about how their partners and/or fathers would be involved in addressing childcare needs.”

Midgette and her colleagues argue that this reflects societal expectations for women to live up to male standards by focusing more on work and less on the communal roles of childcare. According to her, as long as the need for care exists, this equalization is not sufficient.