Does suburbia reinforce 1950s gender roles?

Over at Creative Class today I blogged about how women have become the majority in Canada’s labour force.

The shift toward a majority female workforce is probably also further evidence that the current economic downturn has accelerated the shift toward a creative economy.

After all, jobs that have traditionally employed women are creative, or have become so in recent years. In addition to the female majority in problem-solving fields like health care and teaching, what were previously more rote occupations now require tremendous creativity and smarts. …

Richard Florida has often touched on the role gender has played in shaping what we choose to do. Men (like Richard’s father) have often drifted into manufacturing jobs because it was the “masculine” thing to do, rather than doing something more creative that they might have enjoyed better.

Andrea Learned commented that the recession and the myriad job losses in the manufacturing and construction sectors may be accelerating an ongoing redefinition of what it is to be masculine (or feminine.)

[I] think that the definition of masculinity (more than that of femininity) is changing quite rapidly & somewhat suddenly. Some men are open to it and responding well to the freedom/flexibility of not having to worry about the traditional definition of masculinity (more ease in parenthood or more ease with taking care of themselves). Others are really nervous and so re-trenching in all that is the worst of that traditional viewpoint.

This made me wonder the extent to which suburban lifestyles have also tended to reinforce 1950s gender roles of a woman staying at home raising the children and the man commuting to work.    Taking the time to commute one hour each way to “the office” or “the factory” removes time a dad can spend helping to raise and nurture his kids.  Having a home distant from most employment centres also makes it hard for many women to continue their careers once they have kids — commuting one hour each way, plus spending 8 hours at the office, means 10 hours away from the children.

By contrast, living closer to employment centres might offer both parents the opportunity to commute in just a few minutes.

Moreover, living in townhomes, apartments or smaller single-family homes also tends to require less time spent doing household maintenance such as yardwork including lawn mowing, also freeing time for both children and careers (or career and an active social life).

So, it may not only be the economy that is accelerating some re-thinking of gender roles and stereotypes, but the shift to urban living as well.



  1. Gwen says:

    I suggest that a shift to urban living changes the structure of children’s play and following that, parental roles/work.

  2. Global Urbanist says:

    When signing children for after-school activities I always find it amazing that the activities are in the most inconvenient locations. I realized this is because schools and community centres are in the middle of neighbourhoods, away from major thoroughfares and transit lines. It made sense for servicing the immediate neighbourhood, but impractical for a larger area. With the ever growing specialization of activities (not just Dance Class, but Hip-Hop, Tap, Ballroom, etc.) those who attend come from a broader geagraphic area. A family who lives and works on the subway line then finds themselves purchasing a mini-van just to be able to get to all these dispersed community centres. Suburban planning fits well into 1950′s assumptions, but the world has moved on with both parents working and children keeping busy in organized activities. The efficiency of 1950′s planning breaksdown in today’s lifestyle expectations.

  3. Wendy Waters says:

    Intriguing comments when taken together. Perhaps in Gwen’s perspective, children spend less time at specialized, structured activities and more time “just playing.” Or maybe in a really urban setting, all the dance class options would be easily available.

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