Are men opting in--at home? Maybe, but mostly because they have little choice, and they're not altogether happy about it. That was the gist of a story the other day in the New York Times--based, it appears, on a somewhat sturdier foundation than the paper's claim a few years ago that upper middle-class women had embarked on an "Opt Out Revolution," fleeing the rigors of the corporate boardroom for the joys of the kids' playroom.
As noted in my previous post on gender and unemployment, the current recession is hitting men hard--they've lost four out of every five jobs in the downturn. Studies from past recessions have found that laid-off men are not nearly as likely as women to spend their newfound free time with their children, and in fact, they often end up spending even less time with the kids than they did while they were employed. It's quite possible that, overall, this pattern still holds. The Mr. Moms of Westchester County may be a fascinating subculture but a statistical anomaly. We don't yet know.
But there are some signs that the dynamics may have shifted. In addition to the grim stats about lost jobs, each month brings new numbers that show how many people are dropping out of the labor force completely. And what's interesting is that, unlike in past recessions, when laid-off women were much more likely than men to stop looking for work and turn to caregiving and other pursuits, men and women have been quitting the labor force in roughly equal numbers. As this Forbes.com column notes, "the increase in the number of women dropping out from December 2007 to March 2009 was 38%. The increase in the number of men dropping out was 90%." That's pretty striking. Over at Slate last month, Emily Bazelon collected some tantalizing anecdotes suggesting that this time round, jobless men (or at least a "significant minority" of them) are pitching in at home.
The point is not that the "he-cession" is going to usher in a long-awaited feminist domestic revolution by decimating the ranks of employed men. Indeed, the "shame" and "pain" expressed by the newly-minted stay-home Dads suggest that we have a long way to go. But there is the hope that, when better times return, the habits and bonds forged during this gender-bending recession will endure.