First, it was the yuppies - young upwardly mobile professionals - who supposedly represented the new American families. When they fizzled, on came the "dinks" - double income, no kids.
Now it's the "dewks" - dual-employed with kids.
And unlike the yuppies and the dinks, they're no passing fad. In statistics released today, the US Census Bureau reports that in 1998, for the first time since the agency started recording such data, the majority of families were dewks - married couples with children and two jobs.
The trend has remade America's social landscape, spawning a child-care boom, blurring gender roles, and pushing "soccer moms" onto the political stage. It has also boosted more Americans into the middle class and even the upper-middle class. But in one area, the dewks have run into a brick wall.
By and large, the only way to get ahead in the workplace is to work long hours and sacrifice family time. The result, strangely, is that today's families don't live that much differently from the Ozzies and Harriets of the 1950s, researchers say. Ozzie usually still has the career. Harriet still cleans the kitchen. Only now she has to schedule it around her own dead-end job.
Some researchers call the dewks "neotraditional" - less worried, perhaps, about a lack of money but frazzled by a shortage of time.
The solution, these researchers add, is to restructure work. In a real New Economy, employees wouldn't have to abandon the career ladder to take off a few hours a day - or even a few years - to care for their children. That's a far cry from what workers have now.
"What we have is an economy of mothers and others," says Joan Williams, codirector of the Gender, Work & Family Project at American University in Washington. For all the attention employers pay to child care and flex time, she argues, high-paying jobs requiring lots of overtime still exclude almost all mothers. The result: Today's typical fathers still earn nearly 70 percent of their family's income; mothers still do 80 percent of the child care.
"In many ways, we're still caught up with a set of customs and rules that date back to the single wage earner days," says John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an international outplacement firm in Chicago. "We have a long way to go."
The ascendance of dual-income families stems from the rise of women in the workforce. From 1976 to 1998, the percentage of working women with infants under the age of 1 nearly doubled to a record 59 percent, according to figures released today. Nearly two-thirds of those women worked full time.
Such trends aren't limited to the United States. Women in most developed countries work outside the home in large numbers. Rates in China and Russia even top the US.
But it's here that the rise of the dewks seems most pronounced. In 1976, one-third of America's married couples had children and two spouses working; by 1998, such families represented 51 percent of all families.
Although they tend to make a little less money than childless married couples (the dinks), the dewks are far more likely to own a home. And the women in such marriages earn on average far more than unmarried women - three times as much, according to a study by visiting scholars at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York.
Dual-income families work hard for their income. Americans devote nearly 2,000 hours a year to their jobs, more than any other industrial nation, and two weeks more than even the Japanese.
And that's the problem. Dewks face difficult choices. Both fathers and mothers want to work fewer hours. But cutting back work time jeopardizes advancement. So typically, one spouse (usually the man) works to maintain a career. The other (usually the woman) cuts back to accommodate child care.
That's one reason women still earn only about three-quarters of what men do, even though the gap has narrowed dramatically since the late 1970s.
Another change: fathers are doing more at home. Yet fathers still tend to do the fun things, such as taking the children for a walk, while women still do most of the chores, such as housecleaning. "We don't have equal sharing in many families, and we don't have role reversal in more than about 10 to 20 percent of the cases," says Scott Coltrane, associate director of the Center for Family Studies at the University of California in Riverside.
Parents, meanwhile, are cutting back on the time they spend with others. In 1975, for example, the average American went to 12 club meetings a year. Last year, he or she went to five, says Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community."
Children of dual-income couples also feel the squeeze. They spend less time with their mothers and more time with their fathers than children in one-income families. They also spend far more time in child care, often equal to a regular work week.
Some researchers suggest these children still get quality time with mothers. But commitments at the workplace mean mothers are working the equivalent of two full-time jobs.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society