Work & Family

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Work & Family

Organized by: Landon Schnabel, Indiana University, Bloomington

Articles published in Gender & Society cover a broad array of issues involved in the interplay between work and family, showing how work can affect family and family can affect work.

Family composition has changed and women have joined the workplace in larger numbers, but women are still more likely to leave the workforce due to family demands. Transnational motherhood provides the support some women need to stay in the workforce, but highlights the intersectional nature of gender inequality and has serious implications for both immigrant women and those they leave behind. When women work, there tend to be more progressive gender attitudes operative in the family and less power disparity, but working women still experience competing demands and disproportionate family responsibility. Working fathers experience a fatherhood bonus whereas working mothers experience a motherhood penalty, and occupational segregation is due in part to gendered family norms. Work–family policies can alleviate, or exacerbate, inequity and gendered work and family tensions.

These articles, organized in reverse chronological order, reveal the complexities involved in the relationship between work and family. They provide opportunities to illustrate both the progress that has been made and the persistence of inequity.

Rehel, Erin M. 2014. When Dad Stays Home Too: Paternity Leave, Gender, and Parenting. Gender & Society 28(1): pp. 110-132.

Drawing from 85 semi-structured interviews with fathers and mothers in three cities (Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago), this study argues that when fathers in heterosexual couples experience the transition to parenthood in ways that are structurally comparable to mothers, they come to think about and enact parenting in ways that are more similar to mothers. The author considers the specific role played by extended time off immediately after the birth of a child in structuring that experience. By drawing fathers into the daily realities of child care, free of workplace constraints, extended time off provides the space necessary for fathers to develop the parenting skills and sense of responsibility that then allows them to be active co-parents rather than helpers to their female partners. This shift from a manager-helper dynamic to that of coparenting creates the opportunity for the development of a more gender-equitable division of labor.

Gerson, Kathleen. 2002. Moral Dilemmas, Moral Strategies, and the Transformation of Gender: Lessons from Two Generations of Work and Family Change. Gender & Society 16(2): 8-28.

Modern societies have reconciled the dilemma between self-interest and caring for others by dividing women and men into different moral categories. Women have been expected to seek personal development by caring for others, while men care for others by sharing the rewards of their independent work achievements. Changes in work and family life have undermined this framework but have failed to offer a clear avenue for creating new resolutions. Instead, contradictory social changes have produced new moral dilemmas. Women must now seek economic self-sufficiency even as they continue to bear responsibility for the care of others. Men can reject the obligation to provide for others, but they face new pressures to become more involved fathers and partners. Facing these dilemmas, young women and men must develop innovative moral strategies to renegotiate work-family conflicts and transform traditional views of gender, but persisting institutional obstacles thwart their emerging aspirations to balance personal autonomy with caring for others. To overcome these obstacles, we need to create more humane, less gendered theoretical and social frameworks for understanding and apportioning moral obligation.

Rushing, Beth. 2002. From the SWS President: Academic Work and Personal Lives. Gender & Society 16(5): 581-584.

Rushing highlights the tensions between academic work and family life. University policies, departmental cultures, and personal expectations often promote male-biased definitions of the ideal faculty member–one who can be single-mindedly devoted to research and teaching. Academic policies and practices do not operate equally for men and women. Women have made important progress in academia during the past few decades. But women are more likely to leave academic employment before tenure, are less likely to receive tenure, and take longer to be promoted to full professor. Salaries for women, even controlling for rank, seniority, and other factors, still lag behind men’s salaries. Women are more likely to have extensive family responsibilities, whether for children, spouses/partners, elders, or other family members, though there is no consistent statistical evidence that this differential responsibility has effects on faculty members’ productivity. Work-family issues are not limited to women but are very clearly gendered.

Lan, Pei-Chia. 2003. Maid Or Madam? Filipina Migrant Workers and the Continuity of Domestic Labor. Gender & Society 17(2): 187-208.

This article examines the complexity of feminized domestic labor in the context of global migration. Lan views unpaid household labor and paid domestic work not as dichotomous categories but as structural continuities across the public and private spheres. Based on a qualitative study of Filipina migrant domestic workers in Taiwan, Lan demonstrates how women travel through the maid/madam boundary—housewives in home countries become breadwinners by doing domestic work overseas, and foreign maids turn into foreign brides. While migrant women sell their domestic labor in the market, they remain burdened with gendered responsibilities in their own families. Their simultaneous occupancy of paid and unpaid domestic labor is segmented into distinct spatial settings. Lan underscores women’s agency by presenting how they articulate their paid and unpaid domestic labor and bargain with the monetary and emotional value of their labor.

Misra, Joya, Stephanie Moller, and Michelle J. Budig. 2007. Work—Family Policies and Poverty for Partnered and Single Women in Europe and North America. Gender & Society 21(6): 804-827.

Work—family policy strategies reflect gendered assumptions about the roles of men and women within families and therefore may lead to significantly different outcomes, particularly for families headed by single mothers. The authors argue that welfare states have adopted strategies based on different assumptions about women’s and men’s roles in society, which then affect women’s chances of living in poverty cross-nationally. The authors examine how various strategies are associated with poverty rates across groups of women and also examine more directly the effects of specific work—family policies on poverty rates. They find that while family benefits and child care for young children unequivocally lower poverty rates, particularly for families headed by a single mother, long parental leaves have more ambivalent effects. The findings suggest that it is critical to examine the gendered assumptions underlying work—family policies rather than viewing all work—family policies as the same.

Cha, Youngjoo and Sarah Thébaud. 2009. Labor Markets, Breadwinning, and Beliefs: How Economic Context Shapes Men’s Gender Ideology. Gender & Society 23(2): 215-243.

Abundant research has found that men’s economic status shapes their gender ideology such that men who are breadwinners are less likely to endorse egalitarian ideology than men in nontraditional arrangements. This article investigates how the association between men’s breadwinning status and gender ideology is influenced by the institutional arrangements of different types of labor markets. Rigid labor markets support men’s ability to be breadwinners in the long term, whereas flexible labor markets provide men with more frequent, but less permanent, experiences of nontraditional arrangements. The authors anticipate that breadwinner status will have stronger effects on men’s gender ideology in rigid labor markets because men can expect less fluctuation in their employment situations in those contexts. Results from a multilevel analysis of 27 countries indeed demonstrate that individual men’s economic dependency on their partners influences men’s gender egalitarian ideology more strongly in rigid labor markets than in flexible markets.

Benard, Stephen and Shelley J. Correll. 2010. Normative Discrimination and the Motherhood Penalty. Gender & Society 24(5): 616-646.

This research proposes and tests a new theoretical mechanism to account for a portion of the motherhood penalty in wages and related labor market outcomes. At least a portion of this penalty is attributable to discrimination based on the assumption that mothers are less competent and committed than other types of workers. But what happens when mothers definitively prove their competence and commitment? In this study, the authors examine whether mothers face discrimination in labor-market-type evaluations even when they provide indisputable evidence that they are competent and committed to paid work. The authors test the hypothesis that evaluators discriminate against highly successful mothers by viewing them as less warm, less likable, and more interpersonally hostile than otherwise similar workers who are not mothers. The results support this “normative discrimination” hypothesis for female but not male evaluators. The findings have important implications for understanding the nature and persistence of discrimination toward mothers.

Hodges, Melissa J. and Michelle J. Budig. 2010. Who Gets the Daddy Bonus? Organizational Hegemonic Masculinity and the Impact of Fatherhood on Earnings. Gender & Society 24(6): 717-745.

Using the 1979-2006 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the authors investigate how the earnings bonus for fatherhood varies by characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity in the American workplace: heterosexual marital status, professional/managerial status, educational attainment, skill demands of jobs, and race/ethnicity. We find the earnings bonus for fatherhood persists after controlling for an array of differences, including human capital, labor supply, family structure, and wives’ employment status. Moreover, consistent with predictions from the theory of hegemonic masculinity within bureaucratic organizations, the fatherhood bonus is significantly larger for men with other markers of workplace hegemonic masculinity. Men who are white, married, in households with a traditional gender division of labor, college graduates, professional/managerial workers and whose jobs emphasize cognitive skills and deemphasize physical strength receive the largest fatherhood earnings bonuses.

Chesley, Noelle. 2011. Stay-at-Home Fathers and Breadwinning Mothers: Gender, Couple Dynamics, and Social Change. Gender & Society 25(5): 642-664.

Chesley examines experiences of married couples to better understand whether economic shifts that push couples into gender-atypical work/family arrangements influence gender inequality. The author draws on in-depth interviews conducted in 2008 with stay-at-home husbands and their wives in 21 married-couple families with children (42 individual interviews). Chesley finds that the decision to have a father stay home is heavily influenced by economic conditions, suggesting that men’s increased job instability and shifts in the relative employment conditions of husbands and wives push some men into at-home fatherhood. However, this shift in family arrangements can promote change toward greater gender equality even in couples that initially hold entrenched, gendered beliefs. The data indicate that at-home fathers come to value their increased involvement in children’s care in ways that reduce gender differences in parenting and that have the potential to translate into institutional change, particularly when they reenter the labor force. Furthermore, at-home father arrangements generally appear to provide increased support for women’s employment and promote changes in women’s work behavior that may reduce inequities that stem from traditionally gendered divisions in work/family responsibilities.

Hoang, Lan Anh and Brenda S. A. Yeoh. 2011. Breadwinning Wives and “Left-Behind” Husbands: Men and Masculinities in the Vietnamese Transnational Family. Gender & Society 25(6): 717-739.

This article explores an aspect of women’s transnational labor migration that has been understudied in many labor-sending countries: how men experience shifts in the household labor division triggered by women’s migration. In so doing, the authors shed light on the diverse ways notions of masculinity and gender identities are being reworked and renegotiated in the transnational family. Drawing on qualitative data collected from in-depth interviews with carers of left-behind children in Northern Vietnam, we show how men are confronted with the need to take on child care duties, which have traditionally been ascribed to women, while at the same time being under considerable pressure to live up to locally accepted masculinity ideals. The authors provide interesting insights into the changing family structures and dynamics in Vietnamese society where patriarchal norms continue to exert significant influence on different facets of life.

Cha, Youngjoo. 2013. Overwork and the Persistence of Gender Segregation in Occupations. Gender & Society 27(2): 158-184.

This study investigates whether the increasingly common trend of working long hours (“overwork”) perpetuates gender segregation in occupations. While overwork is an expected norm in many male-dominated occupations, women, especially mothers, are structurally less able to meet this expectation because their time is subject to family demands more than is men’s time. This study investigates whether the conflicting time demands of work and family increase attrition rates of mothers in male-dominated occupations, thereby reinforcing occupational segregation. Using longitudinal data drawn from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, Cha shows that mothers are more likely to leave male-dominated occupations when they work 50 hours or more per week, but the same effect is not found for men or childless women. Results also show that overworking mothers are more likely to exit the labor force entirely, and this pattern is specific to male-dominated occupations. These findings demonstrate that the norm of overwork in male-dominated workplaces and the gender beliefs operating in the family combine to reinforce gender segregation of the labor market. 

Klaus Preisner, Franz Neuberger, Ariane Bertogg, and Julia M. Schaub. 2019. “Closing the Happiness Gap: The Decline of Gendered Parenthood Norms and the Increase in Parental Life Satisfaction” Gender & Society 34 (1): 31-55.

In recent decades, normative expectations for parenthood have changed for both men and women, fertility has declined, and work–family arrangements have become more egalitarian. Previous studies indicate that the transition to parenthood and work–family arrangements both influence life satisfaction and do so differently for men and women. Drawing on constructivism and utility maximization, we theorize how gendered parenthood norms influence life satisfaction after the transition to parenthood, and how decisions regarding motherhood and fatherhood are made in order to maximize life satisfaction. We hypothesize that the rise of gender-egalitarian patterns has contributed to closing the parental happiness gap, and that the effects of motherhood and fatherhood on life satisfaction have converged. We test these assumptions by drawing on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (1984-2015) and applying a series of hybrid panel regressions to estimate motherhood and fatherhood effects on life satisfaction in Western Germany over the last three decades. We then trace trends in these effects back to changing parenthood norms. The results indicate that the implications of parenthood have converged for men and women. As support for a gendered division of labor has lost ground, the transition to parenthood has become increasingly conducive to life satisfaction for both genders, and the parental happiness gap has vanished.

Sigrid Luhr. 2020. Signaling Parenthood: Managing the Motherhood Penalty and Fatherhood Premium in the U.S. Service Sector. Gender & Society 34 (2): 259-283.

An extensive body of research documents that women experience a motherhood penalty at work whereas men experience a fatherhood premium. Yet much of this work presupposes that employers are aware of a worker’s parental status. Given the different consequences that parenthood has on outcomes such as pay and promotions, it is conceivable that men and women may deploy their status as parents differently when interacting with employers. Drawing on in-depth interviews with a racially diverse sample, this article examines how mothers and fathers working in the service sector use their parental status when negotiating work and child care responsibilities. Mothers, particularly black mothers, were less likely to openly discuss their children at work. In some cases, women purposefully concealed from their employers the fact that they were mothers or found other ways of signaling their commitment to their jobs. Fathers, on the other hand, were more likely to discuss their children with their employers and overwhelmingly characterized their managers as understanding of their parenting obligations. Together, these findings help us understand how mothers and fathers navigate the consequences of parenthood in the workplace and add nuance to previous studies of motherhood penalties and fatherhood premiums.