The past 40 years have seen extraordinary changes in our workplaces and families. Women have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers and improved their earnings relative to men. At the same time, men have begun to share women's traditional family roles, and men and women have both increased the time they spend with children. Also, as life expectancy has increased and women are employed outside of the home, it has become necessary for both women and men to balance employment with time to care for their elderly parents.
Our workplace policies have not caught up with these new realities. We still behave as though it is the primary job of men to be breadwinners, and the primary job of women to be homemakers and caretakers of children and the elderly. Companies and other organizations that want to continue to attract and retain superior talent-men as well as women-need to develop policies that allow their employees to be successful both at home and at work.
The first phase of the workplace revolution focused on women, and it is still unfinished. But a new development is that talented men have also become stakeholders in this revolution. I know-I have taught a course on work and family for many years and my students used to be all women. Now about 40 percent are men, and like their female classmates, they want to work for organizations that allow them to make use of their intellectual and managerial skills but still leave them time and energy to be successful husbands and fathers.
In 1970, less than half of adult women were in the labor force. Today that figure is almost 60 percent. For mothers of children under 18, it is even higher, 71 percent. And for women with a college education, it is 80 percent.
Women's earnings have also increased, even when adjusted for inflation. In 1970, women who worked full time earned only 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. Today, it is 79 cents. In 1970, working wives contributed only one quarter of their families' income. Today, it's slightly more than a third. Notably, in 25 percent of families, the wife earns more than her husband.
But women still pay an earnings penalty for having children. On average, those who have one child earn about 10 percent less than their counterparts who are not mothers; it's another 14 percent less with two children. And the more education a woman has, the higher her motherhood penalty.
On the home front, married men and women now divide housework about one-third/two-thirds, and married parents divide caring for and playing with children in about the same ratio. This is a substantial change from the 1970s, when the ratios for both were about 20/80.
Moreover, the number of hours that fathers and mothers together devote to caring for and playing with their children has increased by 40 percent.
And not all children are raised in two- parent homes. Single parents now head up 30 percent of families with children, up from about 13 percent in 1970.
Another major social change since 1970 is that many adult children care for elderly parents. One in five adults over 65 needs help with basic activities; and three-fourths of the elderly outside of nursing homes rely on unpaid caregivers. While adult daughters provide two-thirds of unpaid care for elderly parents, adult sons provide about one-third.
Employers need to develop flexible workplaces beyond providing paid maternity and paternity leaves. They should have programs that allow women and men to reduce their hours or move into less-demanding jobs when their children are young or their parents are ill, and to move back to full-time work without penalty. Employers would do well to follow the example of Deloitte, which lets employees take leave or reduce their hours for a period of time and return without a penalty in earnings or job responsibility.
Employers also should provide childcare benefits even if they don't operate a childcare center, and provide geriatric care managers to help their employees with elder-care responsibilities.
Companies that develop policies to fully utilize the talents of all their employees while allowing them to be successful in their family lives will retain an important competitive edge.
Strober is Professor Emerita of Education and of Economics at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.