Gender Differences in Working and Caring? A New Mom’s Perspective

By Mara A. Yerkes

For the past fifteen years, I have studied how men and women combine their paid jobs with care for children. I look at how governments and businesses differ in creating policies that can help people reconcile these responsibilities, and at how men and women differ in the way they work and provide care when they have children. In the past year, research from myself and others took on a new dimension as I experienced the combination of work and care first-hand after becoming a mom in late 2015 and returning to work a few months later.

Flexibility when going back to work

As a new working mom, it became clear to me how flexibility upon returning to work is valued by mothers. In an Australian study about the flexible arrangements mothers enter into when returning to work (e.g. part-time work, reduced hours work or working flexible hours), we found that mothers without university education and/or in female-typed occupations with limited career prospects rarely question the fairness of the arrangements they enter into when returning to work after having a child. But for mothers with university degrees, what is ‘fair’ when returning to work is much less settled. For all mothers, how they are treated at work when negotiating these arrangements matters.  If mothers feel they have been treated fairly and appropriately, they are much more likely to perceive flexible work arrangements as fair despite any long-term disadvantages.

Who works and who cares?

Becoming a working mom also heightened my awareness of gender differences in how men and women share work and childcare tasks after having children. In the US,  nearly two-thirds of mothers with at least one child under the age of 14 work.

Yerks_3In the Netherlands, where I now live, – nearly three-fourths of mothers are employed. But here, women are much more likely to work part-time than US mothers, particularly after having children. Despite these differences, the US and the Netherlands share a similarly unequal division of care tasks between mothers and fathers. In the US, mothers spent more than twice as much time as fathers providing physical care to children on an average day in 2015. The most recent data for the Netherlands (from 2011) tells the same story. In fact, research on the gender division of care tasks confirms that in most western countries, mothers consistently spend more time caring for children than fathers, and which types of care tasks moms and dads do differs as well.

Yerks_2Why do moms and dads differ in how they care?

So why do moms consistently provide more care than dads? And why do they often spend more time doing more tasks than fathers? In another Australian study, my colleagues and I investigated how couples negotiate who does which care tasks after having a baby and how they explain these choices. Even in couples where dads take an active role in caring for their child, key differences exist in the type of care tasks that parents perform. Our study shows that fathers often opt out of care tasks they perceive as difficult, such as comforting a very upset baby or night care. Moms and dads rationalize these differences by talking about mother’s superiority in caring for and nurturing infants, for example. Mothers’ willingness to step in and do care tasks when fathers step back supports and reproduces these gendered differences.

The need for better work-care policies

Such gender inequalities are persistent and difficult to address. On the one hand, such inequalities can reflect personal work and care preferences of mothers and fathers, as well as differing country contexts. For example, I feel lucky to live in a country where it’s possible for my to each spend at least one day a week caring for our son. Living in the Netherlands, our jobs are flexible enough to make this possible. On the other hand, gender inequalities in work and care reflect structural problems, such as unequal access to time off from work to care for children or unequal access to childcare alternatives, such as formal care. Unequal access to paid leave following the birth of a child helps to establish gender unequal divisions of care that persist long-term. If I have learned one thing by becoming a working mom, it’s that fathers can and do play a crucial role in caring for their children. Providing fathers with opportunities to care is not only essential for children’s development, it is key to improving gender inequality in care and paid work. Hence work-care policies that provide fathers with such opportunities are crucial to achieving greater gender equality in work and care.

Mara A. Yerkes is Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Social Science at Utrecht University and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), University of Queensland. Her research interests include work, care and family, the sociology of gender and sexuality, comparative welfare states, industrial relations, social inequality and women’s employment. She is the author of Transforming the Dutch Welfare State: Social Risks and Corporatist Reform (2011; Policy Press) and co-editor of The Transformation of Solidarity. Changing Risks and the Future of the Welfare State (2011; Amsterdam University Press). Yerkes is also the author of multiple articles, including the recent article on mothers’ perceptions of justice and fairness in paid work ] and an article on attitudes towards the social and civil rights of diverse families.  She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society.

 

 

 

Critiquing and Creating Social Spaces

By Christopher Matthews

I was happy to be asked to write a blog post shortly after publishing this paper in Gender and Society. I remember sitting down at my laptop to start the process of translating my academic arguments into less opaque language. Part way through this process I realized that what I was writing didn’t have the impact that I was hoping for; the post was turning into a simplified summary of my paper. “Surely,” I remember thinking to myself, “a blog post should be more than this?” With some time I realized that my frustration was connected to broader issues related to the translation of research, public engagement and active scholarship.

There have been useful attempts within academia to begin developing impact of scholarship, that is, actually doing something based on research findings. One crucial element of this in the UK has been the significance that is placed on evidencing the impact of research in order to obtain funding in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Unfortunately, my research in boxing has had almost zero measurable impact when considered in this manner. This is why I struggled to develop what I considered to be an interesting blog post at the time, I wasn’t ready to start telling people beyond academia about my research, as I’d not done anything really significant with it yet!

My paper was based on ethnographic research I undertook in a boxing, martial arts and weight lifting gym in England (see Matthews, 2014, 2015 for more detail). The central critique I made in the paper was that while there’s lots of evidence of broad societal shifting in various ways towards equality there are social-cultural spaces that remain, and perhaps become increasing, resistant to such change. When my analysis is broken down to this level it becomes a simple idea, and it is, so while the paper makes a relatively significant contribution to academic knowledge, the obvious question follow; so what? Or what’s next? And this is why I feel the need to create not only critique.

boxing
Luke Jones at Bexhill Film Company

Boxing, as a cultural phenomenon, has a long history of being a site for difference, inclusion, diversity and challenging social norms. Yet, it is still dominated symbolically and quantitatively by certain men and narratives about manhood. The legacy of boxing’s historical roots in a powerful, aggressive and often violent masculine body culture still shape and frame contemporary experiences inside and around the gym. However, the rise of women’s boxing, perhaps highlighted most significantly at the London 2012 Olympic games, has made stories of female boxing fair easier to tell and live (See Woodward (2012) for a discussion).

 This Girl Can Box

England boxing and many boxing clubs around the country have made significant contributions to continuing this process. And while there is still much work to be done, many boxing clubs have become spaces where powerful, skillful and strong female bodies are presented, expected and respected.

Where boxing clubs in a general sense appear to be more resistant to change is in their ability to attract and cater for LGBTQI+ communities. In many cases this is not through any sort of open or even covert homophobia, but rather a lack of knowledge about how, and in what ways, it might be possible to break the symbolic association between boxing and certain images, ideas and stories of heterosexual men. For example, I spoke recently with a gay man who really wanted to try boxing, but when attending his local gym simply couldn’t walk through the door, as if there was a force field keeping him out.

 The clearest way of tackling this issue, is to create spaces where these ‘social force fields’ can be eroded. Indeed, there are some great examples of how this is already happening (London Gay Boxing Club, Velvet Gloves Boxing NYE). So I began working with my local gym, the Eastbourne Boxing Club (EBC), to explore the potential for starting an LGBTQI+ boxing class.

The first stumbling block is funding. One of the main reasons boxing clubs do not have such sessions already is that they believe, in most cases quite rightly I would suggest, that they simply won’t be popular enough to cover expenses. Most clubs simply don’t have the finances to enable them to take risks on sessions for groups that have not traditionally been associated with boxing. I was able to secure some funding from the University of Brighton’s Community and University Partnership Programme to help in this regard.

The next issue is to find coaches who can deliver boxing in a manner which is inclusive and considered. Fortunately the coaching team EBC is not only well qualified in the sport but they also hold progressive personal political ideals. They have been really interested in the idea of promoting boxing to the local community. I have also taken the England Boxing level one boxing qualification so that I can assist where possible.

As such, we found some free time at the gym organised free boxing classes for the local LGBTQI+ community. We are currently promoting these sessions with flyers and posters both on the internet and in hardcopy. Indeed, England Boxing has helps us with this post about the sessions.

I will conduct some research based on these sessions which will help develop my existing academic explorations of boxing, produce monitoring and evaluation information for the specific sessions while, also highlight best practice and areas for improvement. The goal is to combine this information with research from other similar projects to produce guidelines and suggestions for the national governing body and other clubs who are interested in doing something similar.

This is how I have attempted to create something based on my academic critique, and this is also why I now feel like I can produce this blog post now. Simply put, I have more of a story to tell about how my research is doing something in the world rather than sitting on a shelf in the library.

Christopher R. Matthews is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. He is a competing amateur boxer who has used his active participation as central aspects of his research. He has published on a variety of topics including men’s power, sports violence, health, gender and sexuality. Alongside Alex Channon he is the co-editor of Global Perspective on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors Around the World and the co-founder of the Love Fight Hate Violence campaign.

Are babies to blame for women’s lower pay?

Baby

By Kristine Kilanski

In a recent article, New York Times correspondent Claire Cain Miller posed a puzzle of longstanding interest to sociologists of work: Today when women leave school and enter the workforce they earn roughly the same as their men counterparts. However, soon women’s and men’s wages begin to diverge.

What leads to the emergence of a gender pay gap? Miller’s answer largely mimics the lyrics to a well-known children’s riddle: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes [insert man’s name here] and [insert woman’s name here] with a baby carriage.”

Miller offers two main pieces of evidence to support the claim that marriage and babies are to blame for the gender pay gap. For one, the gender pay gap widens the most when workers are in their late twenties and early thirties—around the time women are likely to get married and to become mothers. Secondly, unmarried women without children tend to earn roughly the same as their men counterparts.

Miller argues that the “big reason” women who have children, and even women who are married without children, have lower wages relative to their men counterparts is the unequal gender division of labor at home, which takes place “even when both spouses work full time.” She notes that retaining primary caregiving responsibility for children is especially tough on the wages of college-educated women in high-paying occupations—whom she later explains face difficultly meshing caregiving with the 24/7 work culture associated with the jobs these women hold.

Miller attributes the marriage penalty faced by women to a combination of the tendency for married women to privilege their husband’s careers in decision-making, lowered career ambitions in anticipation of motherhood, and reduced opportunities at work as a result of employer suspicion regarding married women’s long-term commitment to their careers. She quotes an economist who suggests that the gendered division of labor is a rational, if unfortunate, response to present demands on families.

To be sure, the New York Times article offers important insights into the production of the gender pay gap. It is well-established, for example, that the energy of caring for children unequally falls on women’s shoulders (and, as part of the “sandwich generation”—also the care of elderly parents), and that this impacts women’s paid work in numerous ways.

However, Miller’s analysis of the gender pay gap fails to include other key insights from the sociology of work that offer not only a fuller picture of the state of women’s paid labor today but also a less rosy one.

Highly disappointing, for example, is Miller’s implicit assumption that the only context in which childrearing takes place is within heterosexual marriage. Implicitly attributing the gender pay gap to wives’ failed attempts to “make [their] partner a real partner” (one of Sheryl Sandberg’s admonishments to women who want to advance their careers) erases both the complexity of families (a minority of which are led by a two-parent heterosexual couple in their first marriage) but also those families most likely to suffer as a result of women’s lower earnings: the nearly quarter of all families led by single mothers.

Lowered career ambitions or sacrifices to support husbands’ breadwinning are not at the heart of the reason households led by single mothers are among the most at-risk of living in poverty. Rather, the devaluation of and lack of support more generally for the labor of motherhood and the concentration of poor and working class women in what sociologist Arne Kalleberg calls “bad jobs” are to blame.

Given that marriage is increasingly concentrated among those at the higher end of the income bracket, poor and working class women face a sort of double jeopardy: Their jobs are less likely to pay enough to support their families, but they are also less likely to have access to a partner with a good job—or a partner of any sort—to help them with either childcare or making ends meet.

Moreover, even in discussing the impact of marriage and motherhood on women in heterosexual relationships Miller misses a few beats.

Whether women downshift their career and educational plans in anticipation of motherhood or whether the family planning thesis is better thought of as a “myth” instead of “a mechanism” of gendered segregation into occupations remains highly contested within the sociology of work.

Regardless of whether or not women seek to enter occupations that enable them to balance caregiving and paid labor, sociologists have concluded  women are not more likely than men to work in jobs that accommodate family responsibilities. Even part-time jobs are often better suited to meet employers’ needs for flexibility than mothers’ needs to balance work and family responsibilities. This is why sociologists of work have been quick to decry “common sense” arguments that mothers “opt out” of full time paid work or paid work altogether (the narrative implicitly advanced by Miller), but instead focus their energies on identifying the workplace practices and policies that operate to “push” mothers out of their paid jobs.

Further, research by sociologist Sarah Damaske challenges the idea that middle class women like the ones Miller centers in her analysis are choosing raising children over work; instead, Damaske reveals that these women are more likely than their working class counterparts to remain steadily employed. That’s because maintaining steady employment takes significant financial resources.

It should be clear by now that motherhood does not have a uniform impact on women’s relationship to their paid work. Moreover, despite the article’s framing—most explicit in the its title, “The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood”—motherhood is not the only reason women’s pay suffers relative to men’s. In fact, Miller herself introduces evidence of this when she quotes a study that finds that a large portion of the pay gap results from women not getting raises and promotions at the same rate as men—though this finding quickly gets swallowed up in her commitment to her original point.

Good ol’ fashioned gender stereotypes of women continue to keep the “glass ceiling” and “concrete ceiling” in place, and to hinder white women and women of color from achieving positions of leadership. While we may like to believe “Mad Men” style workplace antics are a thing of the past, women continue to face gendered sexual harassment in the workplace, leading to short- and potential long-term impacts on their earnings.

Both experimental and organizational research consistently shows that, controlling for performance, women face numerous biases in bonus, promotion, and termination decisions. While it may provide some solace to think gender equality in paid labor is possible if only women forgo children and marriage (a pretty sad request in and of itself), the evidence doesn’t quite stack up that all women have to do is throw away their engagement rings and stock up on birth control to be treated equally in the workplace.

My final qualm with Miller’s article is more of a philosophical one. Despite a longstanding scholarly and personal commitment to promoting women’s equality, I often wonder what utility we derive by holding a narrow view focused on the gender pay gap between women and men alone. As sociologist Christine L. Williams argues, the focus on women’s disadvantages compared to men can miss the mark, especially when this perspective is applied to workers at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. She writes:

“Yes, women in these jobs earn less than men, and yes, feminists should support their efforts to use Title VII to redress these inequalities (as in the recent class action lawsuit brought against Wal-Mart). But what is the point of being “equal” to a man working at Wal-Mart? These are bad jobs, paying below living wages, with virtually no benefits or opportunities for advancement. By focusing on gender inequality, we sometimes ignore the big picture of economic inequality in society, which has only been exacerbated in the recent neoliberal free-for-all” (2006, 457).

By focusing mainly on the fact that women at the top earn less than their partners, Miller forgets her earlier research into the fact that one of the main ways economic inequality is maintained and sustained today is through the creation of “power couples.” In this way, the greater the gender equality at the top, the worse prospects for families at the bottom.

Overall, efforts to undergird gender equality in pay cannot be divorced from larger questions about greater equality and stability for all.

*Originally posted on Work in Progress: Sociology on the economy, work and inequality.

Kristine Kilanski is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

No Place for a Feminist: Intersectionality and the Problem South

By Wanda Rushing

Each generation of feminism produces new questions, responses, debates and critiques. Yet, old perceptions of the South as no place for a feminist continue to dominate popular culture and negatively affect academic researchers. From my standpoint as a white southerner, a feminist, and a sociologist, I want to challenge perceptions about feminism and the South. I suggest using a framework that considers the importance of place or locality.  A place framework may potentially change understandings of social actors in particular places, not only in the American South but also in other regions. It also may affect perceptions and studies of feminism. Paying attention to intersectionality, region, and place offers an additional level of complexity and explanatory power for understanding gender, sexualities, and social movements, as well as southern feminism. Continue reading “No Place for a Feminist: Intersectionality and the Problem South”

Sexism in ratings of intelligence across the life cycle

The Cost of Sexual Harassment

By Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, Amy Blackstone

McLaughlin1
Image courtesy flickr Creative Commons

Last summer, Donald Trump shared how he hoped his daughter Ivanka might respond should she be sexually harassed at work. He said, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” President Trump’s advice reflects what many American women feel forced to do when they’re harassed at work: quit their jobs. In our recent Gender & Society article, we examine how sexual harassment, and the job disruption that often accompanies it, affects women’s careers.

How many women quit and why?  Combining survey and interview data, our study shows how sexual harassment affects women at the early stages of their careers. Eighty percent of the women in our sample who reported either unwanted touching or a combination of other forms of harassment changed jobs within two years. Among women who were not harassed, only about half changed jobs over the same period. In our statistical models, women who were harassed were 6.5 times more likely than those who were not to change jobs. This was true after accounting for other factors – such as the birth of a child – that sometimes lead to job change. In addition to job change, industry change and reduced work hours were common after harassing experiences. Continue reading “The Cost of Sexual Harassment”

Hints of the Coming of the Women’s Marches

By Jo Reger

As someone who studies the contemporary U.S. feminist movement, I should not have been surprised by the global outpouring of protests on January 21, 2017. After all, you could feel the rumblings coming during the Clinton-Trump campaign. The outright misogyny of Donald Trump’s casual evaluation of women, in contrast to the empowered women rhetoric of Hillary Clinton. Emotions were running high, insults were being flung, and once agreeable neighbors began to argue with each other’s choice of yard signs.

Reger-Hints-of-the-Coming-of-Womens-Marches

But stepping back from the heat of those moments, there were seeds planted for the global spread of women’s marches long before Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton threw their hats in the electoral ring.  Drawing on the old adage “hindsight is twenty-twenty,” I offer a few examples that offered hints of the women’s marches to come: Continue reading “Hints of the Coming of the Women’s Marches”