Business or Personal? Gendered Professional Pathways After Job Loss

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By Aliya Hamid Rao, Ph.D.

John is a white, college-educated professional who lost his job. When I interviewed John, he  chalked up his job loss as being a business decision, “A work superior explained to me that the business outlook was not looking good for the upcoming months. And consequently, it was a business decision, and not related to my work performance.” John added, “it was all based on dollars.” As I explain in a new article published in Gender & Society, for John and for dozens of other unemployed men that I interviewed, the process of losing a job was a fact of the contemporary U.S. economy. For some it also appeared to reinforce their professional value. James, a white project manager in healthcare described the meeting on the elimination of his position as “awkward” because his superiors “did not want to see this happen…Based on their professional and personal respect for me and based on the contribution and the value that I represented.” James felt that his bosses valued him even as they eliminated his position.

When I interviewed women who had lost their jobs, they were far less sanguine. Some women too saw their job loss as a business decision. For instance, Claire who worked in media explained that this “isn’t my first layoff,” referencing the reality that layoffs have now simply become an inevitable part of many sectors. Yet, unlike many of the men, even when women saw their job loss as a business decision, they did not emphasize that this process provided a sense of value. Moreover, women who had lost their jobs also often saw their job loss as a deeply personal decision made by employers and which devalued women’s professional worth. For instance, Kelly’s job loss unfolded over months, after she was assigned a new manager. Kelly felt that the new manager was contemptuous of her and did not see her as having any professional value. She describes how she felt, “I certainly must be doing something wrong. I must be awful at this job.” Once she was informed that she no longer had a job, Kelly internalized this lack of professional worth even more acutely, describing, “So I kind of absorbed that and for a long time I carried that with me.” She added, “I would cry my eyes out because I felt so worthless. It was just a cruel way to leave and I felt bad for a long time.” Sighing, she said, “I was so crushed emotionally.”

Why would men and women understand their job loss in such different ways? I argue in this article that women who lost their jobs often viewed this event through a long lens of being disrespected and devalued in the workplace over years, even decades. While Kelly’s manager’s treatment of her made Kelly doubt her professional worth, other women emphasized how their sacrifices for their job – especially time with young children – was recompensed through the institutional payback of losing their jobs. The data on women’s devaluation in organizations and in labor markets is robust: women’s qualifications, their leadership, and their personality are routinely questioned in a way that men’s simply are not. In this context, job loss becomes another pivotal moment for women in particular. For men, for the most part, job loss is of course an unpleasant experience, but it does not typically function to make men completely doubt their professional worth in this manner.

What do these understandings of job their job loss mean for the professional pathways that men and women pursue subsequently? I find that participating in paid work remains of primary importance to unemployed men and they imagine three main pathways: 1) no change in professional aspirations and searching for a full-time standard job with benefits; 2) searching for lucrative, albeit short-term and non-standard, contract work; 3) pursuing entrepreneurial pathways that they often see as an appropriate response to unreliable employers.

Women too had three pathways: 1) most women who lost their jobs also wanted full-time, standard jobs with benefits; 2) some wanted entrepreneurial jobs for the flexibility they saw this pathway as offering or because they viewed this pathway as minimizing the control an unkind superior could have on them; 3) for some women, job loss often served as a key moment to reassess their relationship to paid work. This latter group comprises women who saw their job loss as personal and those who did not. More than women’s interpretation of job loss, age of children appears to matter: unemployed women with young children tend to reconsider the role they want employment to play in their lives overall. Grace, a white unemployed woman, described her job loss as a leaving a “bad taste” in her mouth. Losing her job prompted Grace to rethink her professional pathway. She said, “I realized that you don’t always have to follow the track that you’re on. I was on a full-time career track and miserable in it.” Grace added, “I never thought ‘Well can we [manage finances] if I go to part-time or consult? Until I was forced in that position.” For these women, the lack of care infrastructure and the hostility of many workplaces to recognize childcare needs which disproportionately fall on women, in addition to job loss, was key in rethinking their attachment to paid work.

Job loss is pervasive and women in particular are more at risk of losing a job through practices of downsizing and restructuring. In this context, we must conceive of job loss as an expected – not anomalous – workplace experience. Research on getting hired or getting promoted shows how the gendered labor market disadvantages women. In this article, I ask that we turn our attention to job loss as a gendered and prevalent workplace experience. My research is a step towards illuminating how the experience and interpretation of job loss matters for gendered inequalities in professional pathways.

Dr. Aliya Hamid Rao (@aliyahrao) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics. Her research uses qualitative methods to illuminate the gendered experiences of unemployment in the U.S. professional middle-class.

“good” and “bad” women: gender performance in the context of class stratification

Credit: Furqan Jawed

By Sidra Kamran

Feminists have long critiqued the false binary of “good woman” vs. “bad woman” but these caricatures still survive in some circles. But some women are increasingly rejecting this good/bad dichotomy and developing new types of femininities which combine characteristics of both “good” and “bad” womanhood. For example, the  #girlboss identity fuses characteristics of conventional femininity with the traditionally masculine traits of aggressiveness and authority. However, who creates these new meanings for femininity and are they available to all?

My research explores how these caricatures of “good woman” and “bad woman” play out in the lives of Pakistani working-class women workers. In Pakistan, the locally idealized form of femininity is that of respectable femininity, meaning women who are domestic, modest, religious, docile, and follow middle-class norms of behavior. In contrast, stigmatized femininity is associated with women who spend time in the public sphere, interact with men who are not relatives, are overly sexual or aggressive, and follow working-class norms of behavior and speech.

During ethnographic fieldwork in a women-only marketplace in Karachi, Meena Bazaar, I noticed that women engaged in a wide range of contradictory gender behaviors.  On the one hand, women beauty and retail workers regularly shouted, cursed, acted in a hypersexualized feminine way, and fought with customers and co-workers alike. They seemed to embody stereotypes of “bad women.” On the other hand, workers also constantly attempted to signal respectability, invoked the idea of their own “izzat” (translated as honor/respect/moral reputation), and sometimes were modest, religious, and upheld middle-class norms. Initially, it appeared that some women beauty and retail workers presented themselves as “good” respectable women whereas others willfully performed “bad” womanhood. On closer examination, however, I realized that it was not that some women were invested in being “good” and others in being “bad”, but rather, the same women were continuously fluctuating between both forms of femininity.

What explains this cacophony of femininities in Meena Bazaar?  I argue that women performed these different forms of femininity in attempts to accrue economic benefits such as wages and profits at the same time as respectability and social status. While adopting the “bad women” type of femininity usually decreases women’s reputation, in the context of Meena Bazaar, it also enabled access to economic benefits. For example, managers required their workers to be aggressive, loud, and domineering so that workers could effectively recruit customers amidst the tough competition in the bazaar. However, women did not earn sufficient economic benefits in these low-wage jobs and remained marked as low status both inside and outside the workplace. Thus, they also attempted to approximate more respectable femininity, for example, by adopting both religious and docile attitudes, in an effort to gain status by proving their morality. Since women workers in Meena Bazaar, mostly working-class, were unable to secure sufficient economic benefits or moral respectability to secure “good women” status, they relied on using both kinds of femininity as a survival strategy.

Professional middle-class women and feminists who are rejecting prevalent gender norms are often celebrated as the “new women” of South Asia. Working-class beauty and retail workers in Meena Bazaar were also defying gender norms. They were working outside their homes in low-status jobs and performing “bad” womanhood by abandoning traditionally feminine ways of behaving in docile and restrained ways. However, unlike middle-class and elite women in high status jobs, women in Meena Bazaar did not consciously reject, fuse, or re-define the dichotomy of “good” and” bad” women to herald a new type of womanhood. Rarely did workers in Meena Bazaar brazenly self-identify with “bad” womanhood, even as they performed it by discarding traditional femininity and rejecting the inequalities between traditional masculinity and femininity. Rather, they clung to the opposites of “good” and “bad” woman as they tried to identify as “good” and used these stereotypes to disparage other workers.

Intentionally subversive gender performances are a key tactic of feminist movements in Pakistan and elsewhere, and highlight the poverty of respectability politics. However, my research suggests that such tactics must also be accompanied by other strategies for societal change. Class inequality forces working-class women to use the caricatures of “good” and “bad” womanhood to leverage their status. Working-class women who otherwise defy prevailing gender norms continue to aspire toward respectable femininity, even when this kind of femininity is ultimately used to stigmatize them. My research shows why working-class women continue to vacillate between these opposites of “good” and “bad” womanhood and are invested in maintaining this dichotomy, rather than challenging it. Ultimately, this “good woman” vs. “bad woman” binary allows them to gain status in a class-stratified society. In the absence of efforts to address this class inequality, gender stereotypes are unlikely to be upended, as women will continue to use whatever kind of femininity, they need to in order to increase their chances of a better life.

Sidra Kamran (@sidrakn) is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the New School for Social Research, where she has also completed a graduate certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies. Her dissertation examines the flourishing yet stigmatized occupations of beauty and retail work in Pakistan and her other research analyses how TikTok is enabling the unprecedented entry of women and sexual minorities into Pakistan’s digital public sphere. You can read more about her research here.

Occupational gender segregation: the evolving and paradoxical process

By Margarita Torre, Ph.D. and Jerry A. Jacobs, Ph.D.

In the United States, women comprise 47 percent of the labor force. Yet this does not mean that each line of work is nearly half female. Far from it. Some jobs, such as hairdressers, nurses and special-education teachers, are overwhelmingly female (more than 85 percent women), while others, such as mechanical engineers, electricians and firefighters, are overwhelmingly male (less than 10 percent women). There are gender-neutral occupations as well: biological scientists; news reporters, and bus drivers (between 45 and 50 percent female). Taking all workers together, about half of women would have to change occupations to make the labor market gender-neutral. The gender segregation of work contributes to the gender gap in pay and remains a key part of our gendered understanding of the social division of labor between women and men.

Careers are often conceived of as steady movements from entry-level positions to higher levels of responsibility, authority, and earnings. However, the experiences of many workers do not fit this idealized trajectory. Gender-type mobility (movement between male-dominated, gender-neutral, and female-dominated occupations) is especially at odds with this conventional view of career paths. For example, women employed in male-dominated occupations such as skilled trades, restaurant chefs, and computer coders often leave these jobs, despite the short-term and long-term cost of such moves. At the other end of the gender spectrum are many female-dominated fields with high levels of turnover, such as teachers, restaurant servers, salesclerks, and home health aides. While these positions often have limited opportunities for promotion, some women nonetheless find their way from these jobs into gender-neutral and even male-dominated fields. In short, gender segregation is not fixed from the day that workers enter the labor market but is shuffled and reshuffled. This movement across gender-type boundaries in some ways resembles a “revolving door.”

In our new paper in Gender & Society, we examine the process that produces gender segregation and how this process has evolved since the 1970s. We identify two main trends. First, the overall level of gender segregation in the workplace has declined. The index of segregation declined from 70 in 1970 to 50 by 1990, and it has remained at this level for the last three decades. In other words, gender segregation in the labor market remains entrenched, although at a lower level than was the case in 1970. There has been more progress toward gender-integration in professional and managerial jobs than in blue-collar positions.

Second, there is somewhat less movement between male-dominated, gender-neutral and female-dominated occupations than was the case in earlier decades. To be sure, there is still considerable movement across these lines. For example, for women starting out in male-dominated occupations, more than two-thirds of those who change occupations (69.2 percent) move out of this domain, ending up either in gender-neutral (43.4 percent) or female-dominated (25.8 percent) fields. These rates of mobility, though lower than in the 1970s and 1980s, remain exceptionally high. Here again, the trends were most evident in professional and managerial jobs relative to blue-collar occupations.

We find that people are now more likely to stay in either gender dominated or gender equal jobs now than in the past. This last finding seems to represent a paradox: why would gender-type mobility decline after the overall level of segregation has declined?

The decline in gender mobility cannot be attributed to a decline in overall occupational mobility patterns. On the contrary, women (and men) are more likely to change occupations today while in their twenties and thirties than was the case several decades ago. This pattern is consistent with increasing precarity in the labor market and increased instability in the early life course. In other words, gender-type mobility has declined even though more women are “at risk” of changing occupations today than in earlier generations. Also, unlike previous studies following a life-course approach, we find no systematic pattern of mothers fleeing male-dominated occupations and childless women fleeing female-dominated occupations.

We argue the decline in gender mobility results from a combination of  factors which emphasizes the lessening constraints that women face in pursuing a full set of occupational choices that occur before, during, and after they enter the  labor market.

Some women have begun to see entering male-dominated occupations as a less daunting prospect especially if their experiences in such fields become more positive. We see a decline in occupational segregation because the lowering barriers to entry may result in more investment in occupation-specific skills, thus expanding the pool of women prepared to pursue male-dominated fields. There may also be less pressure for women to exit male-dominated fields. In other words, gender-type mobility may have declined in part because a minority of women have pursued careers exclusively in male-dominated fields and increasingly succeeded in their attempts. 

The findings and analysis presented in this paper point to the importance of addressing workplace factors in reducing gender segregation. Our results underscore the continuing attrition of women from male-dominated fields. Issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace, promoting more female-friendly workplace cultures, and instituting more family-friendly workplace policies may prove fruitful in reducing women’s attrition from male-dominated fields.

The data also underscore the need to devote more attention to building pathways for women into male-dominated fields. These non-standard pathways appear to be even less available to women in recent years than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. Given the high level of turnover in many female-dominated fields, there is a pool of women who could benefit economically from moving to gender-neutral and male-dominated occupations.

Finally, increasing pay in culturally undervalued female-dominated occupations remains an important objective. There may be some progress in this area as a result of efforts to increase the minimum wage and the Biden administration’s focus on investing in the “infrastructure” of care work, much of which is done by low-paid women. These factors could produce uncertain and even contradictory effects on mobility patterns, but they would improve the economic position of women and make the gender segregation of occupations less costly to women and to society in general.

Margarita Torre is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University Carlos III of Madrid and a fellow at the Carlos III-Juan March Institute (IC3JM). Her research centers on gender and work, with a focus on the mechanisms of exclusion encountered by both men and women seeking nontraditional jobs. Her current projects examine the evolution of gender inequality in scientific collaborations across countries and disciplines, and the performance of gender in social media.

Jerry A. Jacobs is Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He has written about many aspects of women’s careers, including gender gaps in earnings, authority and time use, and gender inequality in higher education. His six books include The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality (2004) with Kathleen Gerson and The Changing Face of Medicine: Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care in America (2008) with Ann Boulis. His current projects include research on the future of work and a study of technology and the care work needs of older adults.

ON THE PERIPHERY – WOMEN IN FOOTBALL LEADERSHIP

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By Amée Bryan, AJ Ranking-Wright, Ph.D., and Stacey Pope, Ph.D.

Women’s participation in sport as athletes and fans is at an all-time high. Yet, men continue to outnumber women in positions of power. While the under-representation of women in leadership positions is a universal problem, gender inequalities in sport leadership are particularly stark.

Men’s club football in England is especially interesting because it has a strong cultural connection to working-class masculinities and is often considered one of the last bastions of patriarchy. The industry has a history of excluding women from playing, watching, and coaching football. For these reasons, we argue that football in England is an “extreme” example of a gendered organization – an organization that exists to reinforce masculine superiority.

Although the formal and symbolic exclusion of women from playing, watching, and coaching football is well documented, we know very little about women’s access to administrative leadership roles. So, our research asks, ‘how does the “extremely gendered” character of football affect women’s access to leadership roles in men’s club football?’. To answer this question, we analysed the patterns of women’s participation in leadership roles over 30 years and examined the recent gender pay gap reports of men’s football clubs in England.

FINDINGS

We found that women’s leadership work has been ‘peripheral’ to the ‘core’ function of men’s club football in England. Leadership roles held by women are removed, in terms of influence and proximity, from the male players and the playing of football matches. For example, over 50% of women leaders’ work was in Commercial & Sales, Club Secretary, Ticketing, and Finance. In contrast, just 4% of women’s leadership work involved direct contact with the players in roles such as Football Development, Director of football, and Sport Science.

Women’s exclusion from football extends beyond just player and coaching roles into leadership roles that matter to the core organizational existence: the playing of football matches. Understanding  men’s club football as an “extremely gendered” organization allows us to see that ‘core’ roles, which are the most symbolically important to preserving football’s masculine character, are reserved for men. Accommodating women in ‘peripheral’ leadership roles does not not transform or disrupt the extremely masculine character of football.

Recent political pressure to actively reveal and reduce gender inequalities, such as  the introduction of gender pay gap reporting in the UK, means “extremely gendered” organizations like men’s football clubs will face a challenge. Gender pay gap reports are an opportunity for organizations to explain, reflect upon, and address gender inequalities. But our findings show that men’s football clubs have not taken this opportunity. Instead, they have used gender pay gap reporting to reinforce men’s dominance in football. Our analysis of gender pay gap reports reveals stark pay inequalities between women and men and  also shows that men’s football clubs justify women’s exclusion from core leadership roles by presenting men’s dominance in these roles as “natural.” That is, most clubs argued that male-dominance in core administrative roles was the result of men’s “natural attraction to football”. Clubs also used high male player wages to rationalize significant gender pay gaps between women and men without investigating gender inequalities in administrative and leadership roles.

These findings suggest that men’s football clubs are unwilling to expose and address inequalities between women and men, especially in core roles. This leads us to question the ability of gender pay gap reporting to address gender inequality in organizations. Our findings demonstrate how clubs actively reinforce masculine dominance through masculinist language,  shaped and enabled by the “extremely gendered” character of football. Crucially, this suggests that other organizations that can be categorised as “extremely gendered” may need special attention to uncover how they discriminate against women. 

KEY TAKEAWAY

This research shows that men’s football, at its core, has remained almost impermeable to women. The presence of women leaders in men’s football, even in the boardroom, might look like progress, but if women leaders are removed from the players and major footballing decisions, the world of football will remain exaggeratedly  masculine. Resistance to exposing and addressing gender inequalities in core roles is a mechanism to protect the “extremely gendered” nature  of men’s football in England.

Until women are involved, in equal proportion to men, in core operational leadership roles, equality will never be achieved. Men will continue to be the holders of organizational power and women will be accommodated only at the periphery.

Amée Bryan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University. Her research interests are in gender and the feminist sociology of work. Her doctoral research examines women’s access to and experiences of leadership in men’s professional football. Her doctoral research is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in collaboration with Sporting Heritage and The National Football Museum.

Dr. AJ Ranking-Wright is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University. Her research interests reside within the sociocultural study of sport and in particular equality and issues of diversity and inclusion. Her research addresses and challenges social (in)equalities, inclusive practice, and diversity related to participation, coaching, leadership, and organisational cultures in sport, with a specific focus on gender and race equality.

Dr. Stacey Pope is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University. She is especially interested in issues of gender and sport. She is author of The Feminization of Sports Fandom: A Sociological Study (Routledge) and Co-editor (with Gertrud Pfister) of Female Football Players and Fans: Intruding into a Man’s World (Palgrave). She is currently working on a large AHRC project examining women and football fandom in the North East of England and international women’s football.

Doing/Undoing Gender

By Yuchen Yang

Are you looking for more information about how gender is accomplished through everyday interaction?

Take a look at this new teaching module from the Gender and Society Pedagogy Project on Doing/Undoing Gender! If you want your students to understand how sociologists have come to understand gender and the debate about undoing/redoing gender, this module may be a welcome addition to your class. The teaching module includes relevant academic readings, digital media resources, and two class activities.

This module is intended for use in general undergraduate sociology courses and courses explicitly focusing on the sociology of gender. It utilizes readings from two different articles published in Gender & Society, “Doing Gender” (by Dr. Candace West and Dr. Don H. Zimmerman) and “Alpha, Omega, and the Letters in Between: LGBTQI Conservative Christians Undoing Gender” (by Dr. Dawne Moon, Dr. Theresa W. Tobin, and Dr. J.E. Sumerau).

The author of this teaching module is a member of the Gender & Society Junior Scholar Advisory Board, Yuchen Yang. Yuchen is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago, where he has also received a graduate certificate in gender and sexuality studies. His work has been published in Sociological Theory and Sexualities.

Not Model Behavior: The Pervasiveness of Sexual Harassment in the Fashion Industry

Credit: iStock.com/Sam Thomas

By Jocelyn Elise Crowley, Ph.D.

Christie Brinkley. Twiggy. Joan Smalls. Kendall Jenner. Iman. Linda Evangelista. Naomi Campbell. Cindy Crawford. Gigi Hadid. Lauren Hutton. Christy Turlington. Claudia Schiffer.  The names of these women should all ring a bell, especially among women. Throughout their lives, they all have become supermodels in the field of fashion. They hit the jackpot in their respective careers by having the right “look” at the right time. Clients have paid them millions of dollars to promote their clothes and other types of product lines. Their lives are seemingly perfect to outside observers, as they pose in the limelight wearing beautiful outfits, hanging out with celebrities and rock stars, and relaxing in their glamorous homes.

Yet the reality of the overwhelming majority of models working in the fashion industry is much different. Most of them begin work in their young, teenaged years around, make around $30,000 per year, and age out of the career by their mid-twenties. The work is demanding, whether they are modeling for catalogs, as clothing “fit” models, or on the runways.

While women are the overwhelming majority of models in the United States, men, notably, control key aspects of the industry. They are the designers of clothes, agency professionals who represent models, casting directors, and photographers. In order to be successful in the field of modeling, women know that they must make all of these men happy and comfortable. One false move with these male authoritative figures could spell the death of a model’s career. Models therefore are in extremely vulnerable positions as they attempt to navigate their careers.

My research published in Gender & Society on models in the fashion industry aimed to reveal an even seedier side of the industry: sexual harassment.  In the course of their normal work day, models often travel alone to meet with mostly male industry players. They might interact with a designer, take photos with a photographer, or go to a casting call with only one man present.

During these interactions, two notable dynamics are happening that serve to enable sexual harassment. First, a model is selling herself in a way: her body is the one around which products will be displayed. Men view the physicality of her job as giving them permission to speak and touch her in ways that are wildly inappropriate in other occupations.

Second, several features of the modeling industry increase the likelihood of sexual harassment. Models tend to be young and in many cases underage. This age disparity between them and men controlling the industry makes these models vulnerable to sexual harassment because these men are authority figures to them and they feel like they need to follow their direction. In addition, the modeling industry thrives on producing the “art” or “high fashion;” both are highly subjective goals. There is also no “rule book” for models in terms of what is appropriate and inappropriate employment behavior. Men controlling the industry can hide behind these vague employment terms when they are verbally or physically sexually aggressive with them. Lastly, the modeling industry is dominated by “kingmakers,” mostly men who are key players in the field and who purport to have the ability to make or break models’ careers. Models know this, and thus try to be as deferential as possible in their interactions with them. This power imbalance, too, can lead men to engage in sexually harassing behaviors.

My research demonstrates that the physicality of a model’s job as well as industry conditions lead to an environment where sexual harassment runs rampant. Men inquire about models’ sexual history, have no problem commenting on the models’ bodies in sexist ways, and feel completely free to ask models out on dates. Other men working in the industry order models to take off their clothes and pose nude without thinking twice. Men also exploit models by touching them, engaging in exhibitionism, or sexually assaulting them.

The fashion industry has a serious problem. Most supermodels can control their own professional destinies because of their enormous financial resources. But the majority of models working in the industry are not supermodels. They are women attempting to do a professional job in an environment where men control major aspects of their careers. And many of them are sexually harassed in the process.

In recent years, the fashion industry has started to come to terms with the #MeToo movement, but much work still needs to be done. Harassers need to be held accountable, and models need to have their employment rights clearly spelled out. My research has highlighted their stories of harassment, but this is only the beginning of shining a bright light on the horror of their situations and how we, as a society, need to hold men in positions of power accountable for their damaging, inexcusable, and illegal abuse.

Jocelyn Elise Crowley is a Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her research focuses on the American family as well as the intersection of gender and work. Notable books include The Politics of Child Support in America, Defiant Dads: Fathers’ Rights Activists in America, Mothers Unite! Organizing for Workplace Flexibility and the Transformation of Family Life, and Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain from Mid-Life Splits.

Who Pulls the Purse Strings in Couple Relationships? Divergent Gender Revolutions

By Dr. Yang Hu

Who Pulls the Purse Strings—Why Does it Matter?

How partners manage their money is a key part of everyday family life. Money management illustrates the checks and balances of power that are crucial to understanding couple relationships. As financial management provides essential access to money in the household, gender inequalities in household financial management can lead to inequalities in partners’ living standards, health, and well-being. A few recent studies have also shown that gendered dynamics of partners’ money management also matter for relationship satisfaction.

The uneven pace of the gender revolution between the public and domestic spheres presents a major puzzle for understanding how gender equality at work translates into gender equality at home. Household financial management is an important, but often overlooked, link in this translation. In my previous research, for example, I have found that women were only able to translate their earnings into a reduction in their housework time when they participate in or control financial management in the household.

Context: Changing Couplehood and the Gender Revolution

Over the past decades, couple relationships have evolved as has the gender revolution. Popular media and scholars alike have predicted a decline in partners’ material interdependence and an “individualization” of couple relationships, as women’s labor force participation and economic status increases. However, it is less clear whether the “individualization” of couplehood is also reflected in how partners manage their money. Has the gender revolution given women greater power in household finances? As couples have different economic options, it is important to explore whether and how trends of household financial management differ between low- and high-earning women and couples.

The Research

In my paper, published in Gender & Society, I have analyzed data from 11,730 heterosexual couples from a nationally representative sample of the UK population. I have examined changes in financial management for cohorts of couples born between the 1920s and 1990s.

My findings show that the gender revolution in who pulls the purse strings has followed divergent paths. Over time, low- and high-earning women have come to take more control of the finances in their relationships, but in different ways.

As high-earning women develop a sense of autonomy from their earnings and can afford the transaction costs associated with keeping separate purses, their empowerment in household finances is primarily characterized by a trend of “individualization,” as reflected in a decrease in joint financial management and an increase in independent management, such as separate bank accounts. Further, the trend of “individualization” is primarily found among men and women with about equal individual income: the decline of joint financial management is particularly prominent among women with equally high earnings as their male partners.

Women with low earnings have seen more subtle changes. More recent groups of low-earning women now keep their own spending money rather than receive a housekeeping allowance, which gives them more freedom of choice on how the money is spent.

Changes have also taken place for men. More recently, men have become less likely to adopt a “back-seat” management of the finances, where they give their partners a housekeeping allowance to manage the delegated and onerous chore of making the money stretch to cover daily expenses. Rather, men have stepped up to share the chore of everyday money management. Taken together, these trends show a subtle relaxation of male control over household finances for women with low earnings.

Implications of the Findings

My findings lead to some room for optimism. I found progress toward, but not yet full achievement of, gender equality in how couples manage their money. The tale of two (divergent) gender revolutions by social class underlines the importance of an intersectional lens on gender equality in couples.

While some sociologists have long argued that modern couple relationships increasingly incorporate the ideals of equality and individual autonomy, how these ideals are achieved differs considerably between low- and high-earning women and couples. My findings draw attention to the role played by material conditions in shaping the way gender equality is achieved in couples’ money management. I show that (income) equality between high-earning partners is at the core of the “individualization” of couple relationships.

Yang Hu(Twitter: @dr_yanghu) is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Lancaster University, UK. His research focuses on changing gender and work-family relations and their intersections with population mobility in a global context.

“Women’s Work” and the Welfare State: New analysis quantifies how gender, class and social policy shape unpaid care work

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened inequalities in unpaid care work, with increased childcare and housework burdens disproportionately borne by women. Across Europe and North America, women have been pushed out of the labor market, while mothers are increasingly suffering from stress and burnout.

Social policy might be able to reverse these trends – and the Carework Network has been urging the Biden-Harris administration to take decisive action now and reinvest in care infrastructure to “build back better”. Similar campaigns have been launched internationally, including in Canada and the UK.

But what can data tell us about the potential for welfare programs to address the gender gap in unpaid care work?

In our recent article in Gender & Society, we quantify the connections between social policy spending and inequality amongst unpaid care workers across 29 European countries.

We find that social policies do matter in addressing women’s “double burden” (at home and in paid work). Spending on social policies targeted to families – i.e., child allowances and credits, childcare supports, parental leave supports, and single-parent payments – is associated with a smaller gender gap in time spent on housework. And while this dynamic is visible across the income spectrum, it is strongest in lower income households.

The Gendered and Classed Dimensions of Unpaid Care

Data from the 2007/2008 and 2016/2017 waves of the European Quality of Life Survey highlights the scope of the care crisis even before the onset of the pandemic.

Figure 1 presents the mean weekly number of hours spent on unpaid care, broken down by care type (i.e. childcare as compared to housework), gender, and income quartile, for people living with at least one child under the age of 18 years. Several patterns emerge.

First, across all income groups, childcare makes up the majority of time dedicated to unpaid care work. This means both men and women spend proportionately more time caring for children than cooking and cleaning.

Second, women devote around twice as much time to unpaid caring as men. This pattern is consistent across the income spectrum, though the gender gap is especially large in lower income households.

Third, women with higher household income spend less time on unpaid care work than their poorer counterparts – likely because wealthier women outsource work to paid care providers. Men, by contrast, dedicate similar (lower) amounts of time to unpaid care work regardless of income level.

Fourth, childcare makes up a larger proportion of unpaid care work for wealthier women than for poorer ones. This reinforces prior research on “intensive mothering”: time spent educating children has become an important means of class reproduction within higher-income families, while “menial” tasks such as cooking and cleaning are more readily outsourced.

Spending on Family Policy is Associated with Reduced Inequalities in Housework

Using national data from the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation’s SOCX database, we then examine the state’s potential role in reducing inequalities in unpaid care work.

Figure 2 illustrates the relationship between how much a country spends on helping families (as a percentage of GDP) and the mean number of total hours spent by women and men, per country, on housework.

The two panels highlight that the gender gap in unpaid housework is a common feature across each of the 29 countries we examine. Regardless of the country or level of spending, women continually perform more unpaid housework then men.

Yet the data also show that the more a country spends to help its families thrive, the fewer hours women spend on housework. Women in countries where money spent on families accounts for a higher proportion of GDP spend less time, on average, doing unpaid housework tasks.

Using Family Policy to Build Back Better

Our analyses show that while women – and especially poorer women – spend more time on unpaid care work than men, carefully designed social policy spending may help to shrink the size of that gender gap. For governments, then, (re)investing in social programs that target families offers a promising route forward to counteract the large increases in unpaid care work that have occurred during the pandemic. These programs should be a crucial component of post-pandemic efforts to create a more equitable and caring society.

Naomi Lightman is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary. Her current research focuses on the of impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the employment conditions and health and well-being of paid caregivers in long-term care settings. Her related research publications examine the intersections of gender, inequality, care work (paid and unpaid), and social policy. You can follow her on Twitter @naomilightman.

Anthony Kevins is Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at Loughborough University. His research centers around inequality, public opinion, and various social policy programs, often with a focus on labor market vulnerability. You can read more about his research on his website, which also includes non-paywalled, open-access copies of his published studies – and you can follow him on Twitter @avkevins.

Teaching Module: Care Work

Image Source: BBC News

Are you looking for more information about gender in your classroom?

Take a look at this new teaching module from the Gender and Society Pedagogy Project on Care Work! If you want your students to understand the different conceptualizations of care work, “global care chains”, and the hierarchies and interdependences created by the stratification of care work, this module would be an addition to your class. The teaching module includes class presentations, a list of suggested discussion questions, a week-long Time-use Diary activity, and an activity assessment.

This module is intended for use in an upper-level undergraduate course and utilizes readings from two different articles published in Gender & Society, “Reproducing labor inequalities: challenges for feminists conceptualizing care at the intersections of gender, race, and class” (by Dr. Mignon Duffy) and “Migrant Filipina Domestic Workers and the International Division of Reproductive Labor” (by Dr. Rhacel Salazar Parreñas). The learning module can be adapted for both in-class and virtual learning in any size class.

The author of this teaching module is a member of the Gender & Society Junior Scholar Advisory Board, Carieta Thomas. She is a Doctoral Student at University of Calgary.

You can find this module on care work here.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS SPECIAL ISSUE OF GENDER & SOCIETY: “RACE, GENDER AND VIOLENCE IN THE U.S.”

Guest Editors:

Pallavi Banerjee (University of Calgary), Maria Cecilia Hwang (McGill University), and Rhacel Parreñas (University of Southern California)

Image taken by Dr. Pallavi Banerjee

This special issue on “Race, Gender, and Violence in the U.S.” seeks to return to the scholarly origins of “intersectionality,” a concept introduced 30 years ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw to understand acts of violence against women of color.

Focusing on this still pressing issue, one magnified by the recent targeted murders of Asian women in Atlanta, police killings of Black women, murdered and missing Indigenous women, and femicides near the Southern border of the U.S., this special issue welcomes works that offer theoretically informed and substantive empirical accounts of embodied, legal, and political economic violence against women and nonbinary persons of color.

By embodied violence, we refer to injuries to the body including violent representations, intimate partner violence, and violent state disciplining. By legal violence, we underscore state criminalization and dehumanization of women and nonbinary persons in communities of color with an emphasis on the oppressive gendered and racialized immigration regime and the criminal justice system. Lastly, by political economic violence, we focus on masculine authority structures, poverty, labor precarity, and workplace hazards.

This special issue is not on intersectionality as a theory or method but instead on intersectional violence, or violence resulting from the interlocking oppressions of gender, race, class and sexuality. 

SUBMISSION INFORMATION

We seek submissions that address a wide range of gendered racialized violences, including but not limited to missing and murdered women of color, transgender women and Indigenous women; forced border and carceral separation of families; intimate partner violence; rape and sexual assault; forced sterilization; policing of women of color and immigrant women; religious intolerance; racialized sexual harassment; labor precarity; evictions and homelessness; poverty; maternal and infant health; impacts of disasters and pandemics; environmental and climate issues; and assaults in public spaces. 

All papers must make both a theoretical and empirical contribution to the study of gender. 

Manuscripts may be submitted at any time but must be submitted by  January 15th 2022 online to http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/gendsoc and should specify in the cover letter that the paper is to be considered for the special issue.

For additional information, please contact the Corresponding Special Issue Editor, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, at parrenas@usc.edu