Every generation revolutionizes something, and Generation X is revolutionizing the intersection of family and work. There’s a new emphasis on keeping families together over career aspirations, and it’s what makes me most proud to be a part of Gen X.
Generation X knows that the belief that both parents in a family can have demanding, time-consuming careers outside the home is an antiquated one. Time has shown that it just doesn’t work.
Sure, girls can grow up to be anything, and boys can start companies and become millionaires. But there’s a limitation that no one talks about: Two parents working more than 60 hours a week each is bad for the marriage and bad for the kids.
Thanks to Gen X, the power-couple-as-parents setup will likely go down in history as just another terrible idea conceived by baby boomers.
At this point, it’s clear that families are better off when one person takes care of the household full time. Statistics support this conclusion, and it’s also intuitive.
The problem is that not many people want to stay at home full time. We already did that in a widespread way in the 1950s, and the cliche of the housewife who takes valium to cope exists for a reason: Staying at home with kids every day for 20 years isn’t a first choice for most people.
Today, 60 percent of mothers say they want part-time work, which means that when you account for women who want to work full time, only a small percentage of them want to stay home with kids all day. And nearly 70 percent of men say they would consider staying home, although men who succeed at staying at home usually have some other work or significant hobby on the side.
So most people want to stay home with their kids part time and work part time. This isn’t surprising, because work is easier than parenting — it’s more peaceful and more intellectually stimulating, and it has a predictable, structured reward system.
Also, it’s hard to get past the fact that society values work in business more than work at home; as wrong as this is, we all like to be valued in the society in which we live. It’s natural, then, that people want to have some kind of work in their lives that’s outside the home. What’s surprising is that there are people who still think that having two parents working 60-hour weeks is OK for children.
To begin with, very few families have a real financial need for two parents to be working that much, and the majority of the families that do don’t read Yahoo! Finance. So the couples who leave their kids with a caretaker for 10 hours a day are making a choice, and the strongest evidence that it isn’t a great one for kids is that Gen Xers who didn’t have both parents at home hated it so much that they don’t want to do it to their own children.
One indication of how Generation X is revolutionizing family and work is in the language we use. In middle age, baby boomers came up with the terms “yuppie” and “latchkey kid,” while in the same time of life Gen X coined “stay-at-home dad” and “shared care.”
And while Gen Xers have been labeled as slackers by workaholic media types, they actually value family and friends more than anything else. They won’t work the extreme hours boomers put in because they’ve seen the impact of not taking care of family, and they want no part of it.
Baby boomers divorced at a higher rate than any group in history, yet from 1970 to 1990 divorce decreased by almost half for people with college degrees. Gen X takes care of family at the expense of top-tier careers, and it’s paying off — when it comes to keeping families together, Generation X has succeeded where baby boomers failed.
What exactly is the payoff? Happiness. Nattavudh Powdthavee, an economist at the University of London who studies money and happiness, points out that earning a lot of money and maintaining intimate relationships both take a lot of time. So you have to decide where your time is best spent.
Powdthavee shows how to calculate how much money you need to earn in order to replace the happiness from a close relationship. He concludes that for the same amount of time spent, you get more fulfillment from nurturing relationships than from earning money.
Clearly, everyone in the family will be happier if one or both parents tones down their career aspirations and pays more attention to their personal life.