Prof. Kelly Musick, policy analysis and management, was awarded $1 million for her research on the discrepancy in earnings between women with children and their male partners.
After having a child, inequality within families tends to increase because women are more likely to stop working or to work less, which Musick said contributes to the gender wage gap and also leaves women economically vulnerable — especially when facing divorce.
Women’s lower relative earnings can also impact their role in family decision-making, Musick said.
“Most women still have primary responsibility at home, and their partners maintain the status of primary earner, especially after a child is born,” Musick told the Cornell Chronicle, which is run by the University.
Musick’s research also suggests that the United States is far behind many other countries in the world in regard to policies that support work and family — for example, it is one of the only countries with no federally mandated paid parental leave.
“Weak work hour regulations and the all-or-nothing structure of many workplaces also push mothers to leave the labor force, and push couples toward a traditional male breadwinner family model,” Musick said.
“Understanding long-run changes in how couples navigate the transition to parenthood can inform policy changes with the broad goal of supporting parents’ in their work and family roles,” she continued.
According to the University, Musick’s research will use four decades of studies from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to analyze changes in husbands and wives’ work and earnings following the birth of their first child. This is the largest and longest-running longitudinal data source in the US and is “virtually untapped for research on family dynamics and change,” according to Musick.
Musick said her research can also educate Cornell students on their “understanding of broad social changes in men and women’s role and how they play into patterns of inequality.”
“I think many students are surprised to see the data on how men and women’s time investments diverge after parenthood, with mothers spending more time in housework and childcare and less in paid work,” Musick said.
Musick is also collaborating with Patrick Ishizuka, a Cornell Population Center Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow, whose research has found that mothers are more likely to continue working in occupations that have greater work hour flexibility.
Moving forward, with the grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Musick said she has started to explore “what characteristics of workplaces make it easier or harder for women to remain employed following parenthood.”