Ebony (1999) makes this clear: ‘a generation of new millennium parents – mostly middle-class professionals – is blurring the traditional lines and writing new rules for child-rearing’. In summary, due to fundamental changes in the past half century, the economic and social roles of mothers and fathers have become interchangeable and flexible.
Over the past half century or so, women have taken on a much more prominent role in the labor market, which has presumably meant a more equitable sharing of caregiving tasks between mothers and fathers, in those households where both parents are in residence. Amato (1994) was correct in proposing that ‘the massive movement of married women into the paid labor force disrupted the traditional division of labor within the nuclear family’ (p.1031). Indeed, he found that 67% of married mothers with children under 18 were in paid work, so that ‘mothers now share the breadwinning role with their husbands’ (Amato, 1994, p.1031).
With the ready availability of effective contraceptives since the 1960s, women have been able to take full control of their reproductive lives, with many choosing to delay childbirth and starting a family until they feel that they have established a secure and successful career in their chosen sector. Additionally, the availability of widespread and affordable childcare allows many mothers to return to the workplace, sometimes soon after the birth of a child. The changing economic role of mothers is fully borne out in the figures. From 1948-2001, the percentage of working age women either in employment or looking for paid work rose from under 33% to over 60% (APA, 2010). In many families, the mother is at least as powerful an economic actor as the father, and often more so.
For many, traditionally-prescribed gender roles and responsibilities have been dissolved, with decisions on the divisions of roles now