Monday, February 23, 2015

Future Directions in the Work-Family Equation

An NPR blog by Maanvi Singh introduced me to an interesting article about gender equality in the workplace and home.  It is by David Pedulla and Sarah Thébaud, faculty members at UT Austin and UC Santa Barbara, respectively.  The article is titled "Can We Finish the Revolution?  Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint" and published this year in the American Sociological Review.

The authors performed a survey to address the question of how much gender-specific workplace cultures and policies determine the roles that men and women play in their households.  Even when couples have gender-equality ideals, workplace constraints may force them to adopt traditional roles of men as the earner and women as the caregiver.  The motivation for the study is to understand why the gender revolution has "stalled".  More women are in the workforce, but are still highly underrepresented tin top positions.   Examples given are that women make up only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 3% of members of Congress.

The study was of young unmarried women and men aged 18 to 32.  The participants were asked their preference for traditional roles (man - primary earner, woman - primary caregiver) vs egalitarian roles.  They were asked to choose between these options under the two assumptions of unsupportive and supportive workplace policies for dual-earner, dual-caregiver arrangements.  One of the primary results is shown in the table here that I made from the data presented.

The conclusions from this study are profound.  The majority of young people these days, both men and women, value egalitarian roles.  That is true, even if their work institutions do not make such sharing easy.  When institutions have policies supporting dual earners and dual caregivers the choice or egalitarian roles goes up.  It is interesting that the impact of supportive policies is much stronger for women than for men.  As the authors put it "... the desire among a significant subset of men to fulfill a neo-traditional roles is strong and largely impervious to policy context; in part, these men may feel they have less respect to gain (and more to lose) by taking advantage of work-family policies and increasing their contributions to household work.

My take-away message is that institutions should take note of the strong desire young people have for policies that support dual earners and dual caregivers.

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