New research done for advertisers shows some interesting trends in sex roles and family patterns, according to findings presented to the American Demographic Conference held in New York recently.

And while this type of research can never be 100 per cent accurate, trends identified by advertising researchers can’t be ignored. These people aren’t looking at their philosophies, wishes or dreams. They’re judging what people want by whether they buy what an ad tries to sell them.

In the early 60s, for instance, the most successful ads were based on the assumption that men earned almost all the money and bough the big-ticket items while women controlled grocery and other small household purchases.

This approach would no longer work, according to Judith Langer of Langer Associates, New York, because it reflects neither how people live nor how they would wish to live.

A few decades of rapid growth in the numbers of women working outside the home have brought us the now familiar advertising images of women operating heavy construction machinery and men wielding kitchen mops. These characteristics may be as far from most households as was ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ but they are consistent with the fact that women are far more comfortable and less guilt-ridden about their working lives than was the case 20 years ago.

If this new-found satisfaction hasn’t been accompanied by a retreat of men into the kitchen, men are in fact doing more domestic chores than they used to. However, they tend to confine themselves to child care and cooking. Men are also showing more interest in health and appearance than they once did, though the traditional man who refuses to take on ‘woman’s roles’ is still among us!

So, too, is the traditional homemaker, although her view of her role is greatly changed from her mother’s. Almost half of all women with children are homemakers, a figure that increases or decreases significantly when ages of children are specified. The majority are defensive about their decision to stay home and resent being defined as non-working. Compared to other women, they tend to be well-educated and fairly affluent. The majority worked for a number of years before their children were born and hope to do so again when their children are older. They prefer to be seen as active individuals with outside interests.

An interesting result of women’s changing roles both in the home and outside it is that neither the working woman nor the homemaker is willing to devote the time to housework that her mother did. Housewives use hired cleaning and convenience at almost the same rate as working mothers.

And the advertisers’ view of the homemaker as a fairly ‘upscale’ market confirms what many pro-family people have believed all along. The push to get women into the workforce and their children into daycare, far from ushering a more equal society, in fact only deepens the gap between ‘have’ and ‘have not,’ especially where children are concerned. Children whose families are fairly well-off to begin with are more likely to enjoy the stability and individual attention of being reared at home. For the less well-off, daycare centers, with their lack of one-on-one attention and excess of cold and flu germs, are the likelier destinations.

For most of those families that have a meaningful choice, keeping a parent in the home is obviously not going to give children all the material advantages of the more wealthy. It would, however, ensure that they get an equal start in the non-monetary areas that have the greatest bearing on a child’s chances of health and happiness over the long haul.