April 1, 2010

C.U. Study: Women’s Careers Impeded by Spouses’ Work Hours

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The image of the breadwinning husband and the homemaking wife may not be so far removed from our culture as we would like to think. According to a new study by Youngjoo Cha grad, women’s careers are often stalled if their husbands work more than 50 hours a week.In her study, “Reinforcing Separate Spheres: The Effect of Spousal Overwork on Men’s and Women’s Employment in Dual-Earner Households,” Cha found that women whose husbands worked more than 50 hours a week had less time to devote to paid work because they are still expected to perform most of household duties, including childrearing.Examining data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, Cha looked at 8,484 professional workers and 17,648 nonprofessional workers from dual-earner families. If a woman has a husband who works 60 hours or more a week, this increased her likelihood of quitting her job by 42 percent. For women with professional jobs, their chances of quitting jumped to 51 percent. If husbands worked 60 hours or more per week, professional women who were also mothers were more likely to quit their jobs by 112 percent. On the other hand, professional men, regardless of whether they were parents, hardly experienced any effects by having a wife who worked long hours.Through her research, Cha found several reasons why professional women might be more inclined to quit their jobs if their husbands were working longer hours.Because the workplace is constructed around those who work excessive hours and put in the most “face time”, women who cannot work long hours because of household obligations suffer. The structure of the workplace does not match reality. Cha said, “There are expectations in the family that women are supposed to do housework and provide more caregiving than fathers. All things considered, we see that women are less likely to work long hours not because they don’t want to, but the conditions don’t allow them.”She added, “The reason why we see this trend strongest in women with professional and managerial occupations [is because] they are in the occupations that require longer hours. These women are under greater pressure to work longer hours and have more face time, and when they don’t, they face greater penalties.”The findings from this new study are especially concerning since the largest percentage of employed women, 39 percent, work in management, professional or related jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.The effects of husbands working longer hours is most pronounced in professional women’s careers because this where the culture of overwork and intense parenting are the strongest. Cha said, “The parenting norm for middle-class families is that it involves more activities and more interaction with kids. [With] this combination, we will see that when husbands work longer hours, professional women are more likely to quit their jobs than women who are not in managerial or professional occupations.”Coincidentally, another recent study by the Pew Center found that in one out of five married couples, the wife out-earned her husband. By contrast, this was only true for four percent of married American couples 40 years ago.Cha offered some solutions as how to how to make the workplace more friendly for dual-earner households.  She suggested that there needs to be institutional restructuring in work culture so that workplace expectations are more realistic and accommodate the needs of dual earner households. However, she conceded that these changes would take a long time. In the short term, she said it might be feasible to implement some work family policies in the workplace such as allowing flexible working schedules and on-site child care so workers can continue their careers without having trouble reconciling work and family issues. But ultimately she said, “Fundamentally what should be changed is the gender expectation”.Cha’s report will be published in the April 2010 edition of American Sociological Review, a peer-reviewed journal, published by the American Sociological Association.

Original Author: Elizabeth Manapsal