In Sex Differences in Infant Care Trump Gender-Neutral Ideology a study of professors taking post-birth parental leave found that

Male professors who take paid leave tend to use a majority of their time on things other than infant care, such as advancing their publishing agendas, he said. In contrast, women use the time to do a significant majority of infant care tasks -- on top of breastfeeding, perhaps the most time-consuming and physically demanding task.

Evolution has shaped women to enjoy child care, especially of infants, Steven Rhoads said.


The article concludes that even men who believe in equally sharing care of infants and toddlers, don't do the work. Men on parental leave still left most of the child care to their wives, including those who worked full time.


The article implies that men shouldn't be expected to do a fair share, since women are, he thinks, genetically programmed for it and they aren't. To me this sounds a lot like justifying slavery based on the idea that slaves are naturally endowed to their lot. The researcher, of course, is a man.

Tags: gender expectations

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Replies to This Discussion

Can I just say how much I'm enjoying the accompanying photo? Well played.

My MIL often tells me how lucky I am because her son is so much more involved with our children than her husband ever was. Quite frankly I think that says more about her standards than anything else; her son is involved now because he didn't do sh*t with our first child, and our marriage damn near ended over it. He's a great dad now, although I wouldn't say the work is divided 50/50.

I think every family has to find their own balance, as John D and The Nerd have observed already. But making the umbrella statement that "Evolution has shaped women to enjoy child care" is a cop-out; an excuse for men to leave the lion's share to women. Men are as good at child care as they want to be.

John D, I agree completely. I'd be happy to pay more attention to the car maintenance, but I've chosen not to; since I do 100% of the laundry and dishes, I feel like topping up my washer fluid occasionally is enough. So I let DH deal with the cars, it makes him happy and he smells like grease anyway. ;)

It goes back to working out that balance - if splitting the work down traditional gender lines works for both parties, that's fine. The problems arise when one partner isn't pulling weight, for whatever reason. A cop-out is a cop-out.

Well said, Saucy Jane! Appeals to evolution in an attempt to explain gender differences ignore what's hiding in plain sight: that people have adapted to be individually flexible and adaptable.  We are what we make ourselves and, as couples, the only right answer to the question of roles is the answer that works for each couple and each individual within each couple.

My first reaction: 1) Society may well have shaped men to feel more driven to focus on their careers than women. 2) Society may well have conditioned women to feel guilt if they don't report enjoyment when spending time on parenting duties. 3) I would guess that more of the male professors had wives who stayed home full time than female professors had husbands who stayed home full time.  If she's on maternity leave and her husband is still working somewhere then she'll do the majority of the childrearing and bonding that makes childcare enjoyable.  If he's on paternity leave and his wife is a stay at home mom, he may feel like a fish out of water or like a third wheel, he may have less one on one time to bond, and may then take less pleasure in the experience.

Interestingly, the article briefly allows for the first two of these possibilities in the second to last and third to last paragraphs, but it draws its conclusions much earlier when, without any indication as to why he makes this assertion (other than an appeal to hormones, which is not new or unique to this study), the author says that "evolution has shaped women to enjoy childcare".  If hormones are the crux of his argument, he should have measured hormone levels to see of they correlated with increased enjoyment.  In other words, among those who enjoyed childcare more, what were the hormone levels of the carers?  The author has also previously published a book called "Taking Sex Differences Seriously" which could be construed as calling his impartiality into account.

Having said all this, I should admit that my own impartiality can be called into account due to the fact that I was a stay at home dad for 5 years.

Most of your points are right on, Skeptical Blogger. However I have no sympathy for

If he's on paternity leave and his wife is a stay at home mom, he may feel like a fish out of water or like a third wheel, he may have less one on one time to bond, and may then take less pleasure in the experience.


Two adults at home full time -- I'd assume they would sit down and divvy up the child care and other household tasks fairly.

My son in law and his wife divvy up baby care by "She takes care of input and he takes care of output." There is no need for anyone to suffer feelings of confusion or irrelevancy, unless they're afraid to negotiate as equals.

Re: No sympathy for the 3rd excuse, I agree with you, Ruth.  I don't think that this is a good reason for an unequal division of household/childrearing involvement, but I bet in those circumstances its effects exist nonetheless.

Crap study, if you ask me.  Note the "co-authored by Steven Rhoads, a political scientist," (emphasis mine), and not rigorous or highly developed.  How could you draw conclusions about parenting for everyone by a small subset of college professors, anyway?

Anecdotally, I've always been the primary caretaker of the children, in and out of marriage.  Now divorced, I do everything the majority of the time.  Not that this is indicative of men in general, but this perspective that "only women are real parents" is a load of sh*t.  I love my children, I spend all my time outside of work with them, and value every minute.  I am not suggesting that men and women are the same, but I am of the opinion that we are valuable parents and get the short end of the stick.

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