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David Baxter PhD

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Working moms shape kids' family roles: Adult children more likely to share housework
August 09, 2004

HONOLULU -- Having an employed mom leads college-age men to expect that they'll be doing more child care than the sons of homemakers, who assume that their wives will take the lead in tending to the nest.

It's just the opposite for daughters: If their mothers work, they plan to spend less time with their kids than do women whose moms stay home, according to an online survey released at the end of July.

Overall, young men and women with employed mothers are much more likely than homemakers' children to believe that couples should share housework and child care, says psychologist Heidi Riggio of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. She reported on her Internet survey of 351 students age 18 to 23 at the American Psychological Association meeting here.

''This just shows the strong influence of the family we grew up in, whether young adults realize it or not,'' Riggio says. As youthful romances develop, ''people's expectations need to be made clear, because these expectations often predict behavior.''

Some differences were stunning, she says. For example, men with working mothers expected to put 12 hours more a week into child care than the sons of homemakers. And women with stay-at-home moms thought they'd do 10 hours more a week of child care than the daughters of employed mothers.

Young women whose mothers don't hold jobs also expect to be spending the most time with their spouses; men with homemaker moms visualized the least time with wives. ''They may see her as spending time with the children instead,'' Riggio says.

Despite these differences linked to upbringing, Americans in their late teens have become more liberal in their views on sex roles over the past three decades, says Yong Dai, a Louisiana State University psychologist who also presented research at the conference.

He analyzed three large ''Monitoring the Future'' surveys of high school seniors --1981, 1991 and 2001. The annual surveys are produced by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

In 1981, about half thought women should have the same job opportunities as men; seven out of 10 thought so in 2001. Also, a declining number believe preschoolers might suffer if mothers work, and more say working moms are just as warm as homemaker moms. ''Fewer teenagers are growing up in traditional families,'' Dai says, ''so fewer see it as a matter of course in their own future.''
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