Gender, work, and family is the study of the intersection of work and family, with a focus on how those intersections vary by gender. This research is motivated in large part by the tremendous growth in labor force participation among women in their childbearing years during the second half of the twentieth century. This influx of wives and mothers into the workforce has raised questions about the division of labor in the family and whether state and corporate policies are sufficient to support new family types. Researchers also examine the causes of the divergent outcomes men and women experience in the workplace, as well as the effects labor force participation has on family formation, dissolution, and carework. These questions are most frequently researched quantitatively, but qualitative and theoretical work also contributes to the understanding of gender, work, and family.
The Myth Of Separate Worlds
Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s pivotal book Work and Family in the United States (1977) laid much of the groundwork for the study of gender, work, and family. Kanter made the case that changing family structures and increasing labor force participation among women were creating a new and complex set of interactions that were not being sufficiently studied in the traditional domains of the sociology of the family and the sociology of the labor force. Social scientists, Kanter claimed, subscribed to the ‘‘myth of separate worlds,’’ a belief that work and family are separate and non-overlapping spheres, each of which operates free from the influence of the other and can be studied independently. She locates the origins of this myth in anti-nepotism policies and employer claims on worker loyalty, in the increasing geographical separation of home and work, and in American individualism.
Kanter’s counterargument is that the structures of work are actually quite crucial in shaping personal lives. Occupations have different levels of absorptiveness; some occupations may require little of the worker outside of the work place, but workers in other occupations, such as foreign service and military officers, clergy, and high level executives, must behave in certain ways even when officially off duty. The time and timing of work is another important consideration. Time that workers spend at work and commuting is time they do not spend with their families, and business travel and nonstandard work schedules may make spending time with family difficult even when the number of hours in itself is not onerous. Work is associated with rewards and resources, meaning that different workers have very different levels of compensation available to share with their families. Occupational cultures may become part of workers’ worldview, shaping their values and especially the way they raise their children. Finally, the emotional climate of the workplace can produce feelings of self-confidence or tension in the worker, affecting relationships within the family.
Similarly, family can influence workers’ behavior in the workplace. Cultural traditions held by the family may shape workers’ decisions about work. Family firms may offer employment to family members, and family connections may open doors to job opportunities. Families of workers in highly absorptive occupations have an impact on the worker’s performance in that role; an executive, for example, might be hampered in his career mobility without the expected ‘‘corporate wife.’’
Finally, the emotional climate of the home may affect family members in their roles as workers. The myth of separate worlds was so strongly gendered that the ways in which men’s and women’s work and family roles were studied were quite different prior to Kanter’s book. Research often lumped all working women together without acknowledgment of the specificities of their work. At the beginning of the twenty first century, societal norms are still such that gender is an important consideration in the study of work and family.
One of the intersections of work and family Kanter identified is the time and timing of work, an area which has been extensively studied by subsequent scholars. Work and family responsibilities are both quite time consuming. As more and more women joined the labor force, researchers became increasingly curious about how families manage to find the time for paid employment, unpaid work in the home, and leisure. Most research has found striking and persistent differences in time allocation by gender.
Arlie Hochschild’s (Hochschild with Machung 2003) ethnographic study of dual earner households with children living at home found that mothers were working what amounted to a ‘‘second shift’’ of housework and childcare when they got home from their paid jobs. Their husbands, by comparison, shouldered a much lighter load. There were some variations in the division of labor associated with different gender ideologies, with couples who shared an egalitarian ideology sharing the work of the second shift most equally, but the effects of those ideologies were mediated by the constraints of employment and actual feelings about work and family responsbilities. Hochschild attributed the uneven workload of the second shift to a stalled revolution, in which women had begun participating in the traditionally male domain of the labor force to a much greater extent than men had begun participating in the traditionally female activities of childcare and housework.
Other researchers have found that the imbalance might not be as extreme as the second shift suggests (Bianchi et al. forthcoming). Time diaries show that across broader samples of American adults, there is less difference in the amount of work – both paid and unpaid – that men and women do. Although women as a group do more of the unpaid work in the home, they also tend to work fewer hours for pay than do men. Historical trends indicate that as women increased their hours in the labor force, they decreased the amount of time they spent on housework. Men have decreased the amount of time they spend in the labor force to some extent, generally by entering at later ages and by retiring earlier, and have increased the amount of housework they do, but not by as much as women have decreased their hours of housework.
An important related question is how much time fathers and mothers spend with their children, and how that has changed since more mothers began participating in the labor force. After all, it is one thing to spend less time on housework than was done in the 1960s and another to spend less time with one’s children. However, in the United States, mothers’ time with children has remained remarkably constant between 1965 and 1998, and if anything has grown slightly. Married fathers spend much more time with their children than did their counterparts in 1965, and this time is not just in playing with and teaching their children, but also in childcare activities such as dressing, bathing, and putting children to bed.
Another approach is to look at the time use of families, rather than that of men and women as individuals. Family structures have changed considerably since the middle of the twentieth century. Whereas most families with children in the 1950s and 1960s had a dedicated home maker, today’s families are much more likely to have two employed parents or be single parent families. It is in these families in which all adults are employed that work–family conflict – in this case a ‘‘time crunch’’ – is most likely to be felt (Jacobs & Gerson 2004). Dual earner families with children find it particularly difficult to balance the requirements of work and family. At the same time, however, there are also many families whose members are not able to find enough hours of paid work.
In addition to looking at the numbers of hours worked by men and women and different family types, it is also important to consider when those hours are worked (Presser 2003). It is often assumed that paid employment takes place from nine to five, Monday through Fri day. However, as of 1997, in a quarter of dual earner married couples, at least one spouse worked something other than that standard schedule. Looking only at married dual earner couples with children, that fraction increases to a third. Those nonstandard schedules have a number of consequences for the family. Nonstandard schedules are associated with lower marital quality and marital instability, especially when there are children in the home. Nonstandard work schedules make childcare arrangements more complex and difficult to manage, particularly in families with young children. One interesting consequence of nonstandard work schedules is greater participation by men in what are generally considered female household tasks and childcare.
Family Roles and The Labor Force
Family roles and statuses are associated with different outcomes in the labor market. Some roles are linked to increased productivity and income, while others are related to decreased wages. Gender, work, and family researchers examine the relationships between various family positions and labor market outcomes and try to establish the causes of differences. Different positions within the family may actually cause different labor market outcomes through the family’s effect on productivity. Alternatively, employers may discriminate based on family roles. A third possibility is one of selection; perhaps the same sort of person is likely to be found in both certain family roles and in certain labor market positions. Conversely, labor force positions may affect family functions, such as propensity towards marriage or divorce.
Much research has demonstrated that married or cohabiting men earn more than their single counterparts. Data from longitudinal studies (Korenman & Neumark 1991) suggest that this is not merely a selection effect – that is, it is not just that men who are likely to do well in the labor force are also likely to get married. Rather, wage growth is faster for married men than single men, and married men receive higher performance ratings. This lends support to the idea that married men are either more productive or are more desirable to employers than are single men. Men may become more productive in the labor market because their new partner takes on more of the responsibilities in the home, which allows men to develop those skills that are most marketable. Research indicates that although men’s earnings go up when they form an intimate union, their overall financial position may not change much, largely because their spouse’s labor market activity may be reduced, causing a reduction in family income. For women, on the other hand, marriage does not seem to be associated with significant changes in wages.
Like union formation, the transition to parenthood is another large shift in family roles, and the labor market outcomes associated with becoming a parent vary by gender. Fathers are more likely to be employed and to work more hours than childless men, but the opposite is true for women. Wages are affected as well. Budig and England (2001) found a motherhood wage penalty of 7 percent per child. That is, each child a woman has is associated with an additional 7 percent decrease in wage rate. This wage penalty may be explained in part by new mothers exiting the labor force or reducing their hours, but even after controlling for work experience, Budig and England still find a penalty of 5 percent per child. They attribute this penalty to either a reduction in productivity or discrimination on the part of employers.
Lundberg and Rose (2000) also found that motherhood is associated with reduction in wages – 5 percent in their calculations. Fatherhood, in contrast, is associated with a 9 percent increase in wages. However, they attribute much of this difference to increased specialization on the part of the new parents; mothers’ salaries decrease because their new roles divert their attentions and energies from the labor force, which lowers their productivity. When the analysis is restricted to couples in which the new mother is continuously employed, a different pattern emerges. These mothers work fewer hours, but at the same wage. The new fathers, on the other hand, work slightly fewer hours, but at a higher wage rate. Women may avoid a wage penalty if they remain continuously employed upon the transition to parenthood, but men generally see a boost in wages upon becoming fathers, whether they reduce or expand their work time.
Family roles influence labor force outcomes. The reverse is also true: labor force positions can influence family roles. To take one example, the historical changes in women’s labor force participation are associated with the increasing importance of women’s earnings for marriage formation. Among younger cohorts, women with higher earnings are more likely to marry than women who earn less. Women now contribute significantly to their families’ in comes, so women with high incomes are more desirable marriage partners. Men’s earnings have long been associated with their chances of marrying. Labor force position can influence union dissolution as well as formation. Because women’s labor force participation increased at the same time as divorce rates, it has often been supposed that women’s employment leads to divorce. However, as indicators of marital dissatisfaction are much more accurate predictors of divorce than a wife’s employment, it is more likely that employment allows women to leave bad marriages than women’s employment causes marital disharmony. Occupation may also influence the likelihood of a woman remaining childless. Highly educated women in high level positions in the labor force are much more likely than other women to not have children, either because they always planned to pursue only a career, or because the tradeoffs associated with child rearing were too great.
Public Policy and Gender, Work, and Family
Public policy in the United States and Europe has historically assumed that most families fit the breadwinner/homemaker model. However, as fewer and fewer families match the bread winner/homemaker model and gender roles in work and family change, policymakers have had to adapt many policies. Examples of changing policy include family leave, welfare reform, and dependent care policy. In some cases, these new policies play a role in shaping gender norms in work and family.
One of the most striking examples of policy change is in the growth of family leave. In the US, family leave was first enacted at the federal level in 1993 as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides certain workers with 12 weeks of job protected, unpaid leave to care for a new child or a sick family member, or in the case of the worker’s own serious illness. The implementation of this right displays a recognition that workers are often also responsible for care taking in the home and cannot rely upon the efforts of a non-employed family member. However, use of FMLA leave is gendered along traditional lines; women are more likely to use it than men, and they are more likely than men to use it to care for others. While leave is unpaid under the federal law, in 2004 the state of California began offering leave takers a wage replacement rate of 55 percent, up to a maximum of $728 per week. European countries typically offer longer leave, plus wage replacement. Norway and Sweden, exceptional even in Europe, offer new parents a choice between 42 weeks of leave at 100 percent of pay and 52 weeks of leave at 80 percent of pay. The time can be split between the parents as they decide, but a minimum of four weeks is reserved for the father.
The ‘‘father quota’’ was established in these countries in the hopes that it would both improve father–child relationships and balance gender roles within the family. There is some evidence that this policy does affect gender roles; men report that the father quota makes it easier to approach employers about taking leave, and researchers have found that new fathers who take leave are more likely to share in housework and childcare tasks. At a mini mum, the policy has encouraged more men to use parental leave. Before it was established, only 4 percent of fathers took any leave in Norway, but in 1996, after the father quota went into effect, 80 percent of eligible fathers took leave (Boje & Leira 2000).
The availability of family leave does not necessarily support new gender norms and roles. Some countries in Europe, such as France, Germany, and Finland, have long leaves of two or three years. Leave of this length has a deleterious effect on experience, training, and opportunity for promotion, and is overwhelmingly used by women, weakening women’s labor force attachment. As a result, women’s labor force participation rates decline, and the traditional breadwinner/homemaker family model becomes more common again.
Welfare reform in the United States is another example of policy changing to reflect new gender norms in work and family. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the original welfare program, was established to provide for the rare family that lost its breadwinner – usually through death or abandonment – and assumed that women with young children would not be in the labor force. This became increasingly untenable politically as single parent families were more frequently formed through non marital childbirth and as it became normative for married mothers to be employed. State level reforms were initiated during the first half of the 1990s, and on the federal level, AFDC was replaced in 1996 by Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF). TANF revised welfare policy by creating work requirements for aid recipients and by imposing lifetime limits on receipt of aid. These measures are in line with new gender norms that support women’s participation in bread winning. It is not only accepted but also expected that single women will provide economic support for their families.
Welfare reform has apparently had an impact. The 1990s saw a dramatic increase in the employment rates of single mothers, and welfare caseloads shrank dramatically. However, welfare reform also had other objectives, including encouraging marriage and discouraging non marital fertility. The most prominent provision to address these concerns was the broadening of eligibility to include two parent families. Theoretically, this would remove the disincentive to marriage that existed under AFDC. Researchers have found that welfare reform has instead led to fewer new marriages, but also fewer new divorces (Bitler et al. 2004). Nor has welfare reform led to reduced rates of single mother families (Fitzgerald & Ribar 2004). It is hypothesized that the economic independence fostered by TANF weakens the attractiveness of marriage.
Child and elder care policy in the United States has yet to catch up with new gender norms in work and family, perhaps reflecting ambivalence about these changes, particularly when young children are involved. While the US has a patchwork of relevant policies – tax deductions for a portion of dependent care expenses, dependent care savings accounts, Head Start and Early Head Start, and childcare assistance to families receiving benefits through TANF – child and elder care costs are high and quality is highly variable. Childcare remains gendered in the family, with mothers reducing paid employment to care for children to a much greater extent than fathers. Similarly, women are much more likely to provide elder care than men. Childcare policy will continue to be an important issue, and with the aging of the population, elder care will become increasingly important.
- Bianchi, M., Robinson, J. P., & Milkie, M. A. (forthcoming) Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. ASA Rose Series. Russell Sage, New York.
- Bitler, , Gelbach, J., Hoynes, H. W., & Zavodny, M. (2004) The Impact of Welfare Reform on Marriage and Divorce. Demography 41(2): 213-36.
- Boje, P. & Leira, A. (Eds.) (2000) Gender, Welfare State, and the Market: Towards a New Division of Labor. Routledge, London.
- Budig, & England, P. (2001) The Wage Penalty for Motherhood. American Sociological Review 66: 204-25.
- Fitzgerald, J. M. & Ribar, C. (2004) Welfare Reform and Female Headship. Demography 41(2): 189-212.
- Goldin, (2004) The Long Road to the Fast Track: Career and Family. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 596: 20-35.
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- Hochschild, R. with Machung, A. (2003) The Second Shift. Penguin Books, New York.
- Jacobs, A. & Gerson, K. (2004) The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Kanter, M. (1977) Work and Family in the United States: A Critical Review and Agenda for Research and Policy. Russell Sage, New York.
- Korenman, D. & Neumark, D. (1991) Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive? Journal of Human Resources 26: 282-307.
- Lundberg, & Rose, E. (2000) Parenthood and the Earnings of Married Men and Women. Labour Economics 689-710.
- Presser, B. (2003) Working in a 24/7 Economy: Challenges for American Families. Russell Sage, New York.
- Smolensky, & Gootman, J. A. (2003) Working Families and Growing Kids. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
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