I love the obituaries. More consistently than any other type of news story, they have the random power to inform me about something intensely personal while marking decades of movement in the broadest swaths of society. Today is one of those days.
Today the NYT– the master of the form– published this: Suzanne Bianchi, 61, Who Analyzed Family Time, Dies.
Throughout her career, she worked to study parenting as it was practiced, not how we wished it was.
Suzanne M. Bianchi, a social scientist who explored the changing landscape of late-20th-century American families, tracing how divorce, the shrinking gender gap and women’s careers affected children, parents and their households (“Is Anyone Doing the Housework?” was the title of one of her papers), died on Nov. 4 in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 61.
And she discovered that, in fact, society was not ruined by expanded economic opportunity for women:
Her most influential finding — that working mothers of the 1990s spent as much time with their children, or more, as stay-at-home mothers of the 1960s did — upended conventional wisdom suggesting that women with careers were shortchanging their children.
Working mothers clocked an average of 30 hours a week on the job, but managed somehow to match the ’60s-era homemakers’ average weekly total of hands-on, close-contact time with their children: 12 hours.
But the part that got me, the silent crushing paragraph that the NYT always places in their death-induced masterpieces, was here:
Suzanne Marie Bianchi was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on April 15, 1952, the oldest of six children of Pesho and Rita Bianchi. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school class, she attended Creighton University in Omaha on a full scholarship awarded by the Hormel meatpacking plant in Fort Dodge, where her father worked. Her mother, who also was valedictorian of her high school class, worked briefly as a secretary before marrying and starting a family.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you write an obituary.