Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research

By Wendi Johnson

One cannot begin to enumerate the number of articles, papers, and book chapters that have addressed the gender symmetry debate within the literature on intimate partner violence (IPV).  Yet the academic sparring between family and feminist scholars has led to a circular argument with no clear winner and has ultimately hindered progress on IPV research.  Thus, this entry will not be another weighing in of the debate, but instead I will focus on providing several suggestions to IPV researchers. While most of my comments are likely to reflect my quantitative orientation, by no means are they meant to exclude qualitative researchers.  I do not claim credit for any of these ideas, as they have been introduced previously in other outlets.  Rather, this is meant to simply serve as a reminder to myself and other IPV researchers of areas that could benefit from scholarly attention. Continue reading “Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research”

Why Women’s Money Means Less

By Nadina L. Anderson

Is men’s money different than women’s money? How can we tell?

While men make more money than women, most scholars assume the physical dollars and cents are interchangeable. A woman’s dollar looks and feels the same as a man’s dollar. However, in practice, people exchange money in particular patterns.

Within families, husbands and wives earmark income to pay for different costs: rent, food, kids, parties, savings, etc. They decide whether to pool their income or leave them separate, when to spend versus when to save, who should manage joint resources, and how joint resources should be used. Together these decisions form a system or strategy of money management that couples use to survive and succeed in daily life. I argue that these strategies tell a revealing story about gender, money, and power.

I study how couples share money in Ukraine. By spending nine months conducting interviews with couples in Kyiv, I uncovered several patterns of exchange in families. In my paper for Gender & Society, I focus on the practices of thirty-four working class couples—describing how they spend, save, and share money. I discover that women’s money is not exchanged the same way as men’s money.

Managing money in Ukrainian families

 For poorer couples, earning money generally does not give Ukrainians a sense of pride or accomplishment. Men in particular feel exploited and betrayed by their employers and the labor market, making 40-50 cents an hour. Even in full-time positions, men cannot pay for their family’s most basic necessities.

Women try to save their husbands from feeling depressed or disheartened. They actively bolster men’s spirits by managing men’s money in ways that position their husbands as providers. However, this does not mean that husbands out-earn their wives. Out of the thirty-four couples in my study, twenty-two wives earn the same or more than their husbands. However, men’s money is spent and saved differently than women’s money, regardless of relative income.

I discover three main ways money becomes “gendered” in the home. These practices make men feel more like breadwinners, even when both partners contribute roughly equal amounts towards family expenses:

Placement and access: Men overwhelmingly bring their money home in cash, making it accessible to other family members. Women often keep their money separate: hidden in a bank account or kept in a secret envelope in a closet. This preserves the idea that women’s money is “private.” Men give money to women and ask them to pay bills, but women rarely give men money to do the same.

Earmarking: Women use men’s money to pay for “important” expenses, like rent, utilities, or car payments. They spend their own money on less visible things like education, food, medicine, train-tickets home to visit family, and other services. Over time, men’s money transforms into durable, tangible items like TVs, phones, cars, furniture, apartments, while women’s money seemingly disappears.

Timing of use: Couples sometimes spend men’s money first every month until it runs out. One third of my sample use this “his-then-hers” system. The couple spends the man’s money throughout the month until his cash disappears or his bank account gets too low, then the woman’s money “kicks in”. Women’s extra earnings are earmarked as shared savings. This helps both partners “feel” like the husband is the breadwinner, even if his wife earns more.

These findings suggest that couples use money to construct a gender boundary in the home: one that casts men as breadwinners and women as domestic managers. However, the gender boundary has some positive effects, like saving men from feeling emasculated in the labor market. Furthermore, when men give money to women, women interpret it as a gesture of deference and a token of gratitude. Men’s money provides a means of signaling respect for women’s unpaid labor. 

When I conducted my fieldwork in 2015, Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine. I talked to many families who were struggling to keep their jobs, pay their rent, and stretch the budget from month to month. They often earned cash, lived with extended family, and managed to survive by working two or four jobs. This changed the priorities of my sample. Couples were not overly concerned with fairness or equality in the home—they were more worried about how to pay rent next month. Because of these constraints, my respondents’ stories are most representative of other poor or financially struggling couples, not wealthy couples. However, my research did lead to some larger take-aways about money, power, and couples.

Generalizing Beyond Ukraine

Anderson_2https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6848823919

1) Money becomes symbolic through exchange. When money changes hands, it can become symbolic. Money can symbolize care, affection, disdain, condescension, guilt, trust, and much else besides. Whether through communication or through unspoken understanding, couples usually come to agreement about what money means in the relationship. For example, if one partner thinks exchanging money means “care and affection” while the other assumes it means “disdain and disrespect,” conflict can emerge. Money can produce power when it invokes a sense of debt or gratitude in the other. Without feelings of debt, the link between money and power is severed.

2) Money can build trust. Because sharing money can be risky, successfully sharing money helps partners trust each other. Sharing can take on many different forms of exchange—unilateral giving, pooling, tit-for-tat, even dividing up costs in a systematic way. By behaving responsibly, partners prove to one other that they are trustworthy and competent. I found that men gave money to women as a gesture that husbands “trust” their wives, even if wives earned more money than their husbands.

3) Money isn’t everything. To understand power, one also needs to examine other resources, like labor. While money can cause friction between partners, monetary arrangements generally reflect deeper dynamics of the couple’s relationship. Fighting about money often reflects deeper disagreements about whose labor and well-being is more valuable. I discover that for many families, exchanging money is a method of symbolically giving value to labor. Couples in my study positioned the husbands as “givers” in part to symbolically give value to women’s unpaid reproductive and domestic labor.

Nadina L. Anderson is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Arizona. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled “Money Talks: Trust, Power, and Exchange in Ukrainian Households” in which she explores processes of conflict and cooperation in marriage. her other research examines housing, migration, and internally displaced people in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

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.

 

 

 

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.

The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down

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Lauri Rotko/Folio Images – Getting Images/Folio Images RM

By Lisa Wade

“I am the person,” wrote Ellen Seidman, a wife and mother of three, “who notices we are running out of toilet paper.”

It was the beginning of a poem she wrote for her blog, Love That Max, about a role she plays in her household – that of worrier, organizer, rememberer, and attention-payer. The poem was about the work she does involving thinking, a kind of mental labor that, she says, “enables our family to basically exist.”

“I am the person who notices,” she writes.

  • I am the person who notices we are running low on coffee pods…
  • I am the person who notices we are running low on toothpaste/dental floss/mouthwash/anti-cavity rinse in bubble gum flavor.
  • I am the person who notices we are running low on granola bars, brownie bites, dried fruit, kale chips, cheese sticks, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and other lifesaving snacks.

She is the person who knows not only that coffee is essential, but also that using the wrong toothpaste is the kind of thing that can seriously ruin a child’s morning—not to mention their parents. Continue reading “The Invisible Workload That Drags Women Down”