Study: Working Women Underestimate the Hidden Costs of Having Children

Study: Working Women Underestimate the Hidden Costs of Having Children

The high monetary costs of having children are well known to working parents and the employers looking to support them. According to US Census data, child care costs skyrocketed by more than 50 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1985 and 2011. These costs have been blamed for holding women back in the workforce by making it challenging for couples to start families without scaling back one of their careers: in the case of heterosexual couples, that usually means the woman’s, as she typically earns less money than her male partner.

Yet a study recently highlighted in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the total costs of motherhood are difficult for many working women to anticipate. “The Mommy Effect: Do Women Anticipate the Employment Effects of Motherhood?” by economists Jessica Pan, Ilyana Kuziemko, Jenny Shen, and Ebonya Washington finds that some women in their childbearing years have “misplaced optimism” about their employment prospects after becoming mothers due to other hard-to-quantify costs associated with having children. As the Journal noted, a recent US government survey found that 64 percent of women with bachelor’s degrees and children under the age of six agreed that “being a parent is harder than I thought it would be”; fewer than 40 percent of similarly situated men agreed.

Beyond the financial costs are the time and emotional “costs” associated with having children that are harder to plan for.

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Parenting and the Pay Gap

Parenting and the Pay Gap

While the gender wage gap is much narrower today than it was half a century ago, women’s progress in closing that gap has slowed in recent years. FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman explains why:

Hourly pay has risen more than twice as fast over the past three decades for men working long hours, as employers increasingly reward employees willing to work extra hours with raises or promotions. (The pattern crosses educational and industry lines, and holds when excluding overtime pay.) Notice that I said “men.” Men make up a bit more than half the full-time workforce, but they account for more than 70 percent of those working 50 hours a week or more. So as wage gains have gone disproportionately to people working long hours, they have also gone disproportionately to men, widening the earnings divide between men and women overall. …

The rapid rise in pay for people working long hours has played a major role in the persistence of the overall gender wage gap, particularly for parents; new research in the Russell Sage Foundation volume estimates that the wage gap between mothers and fathers would be 15 percent smaller if the extra-hours increase hadn’t occurred. But that premium itself isn’t the result of discrimination, explicit or implicit; women who work long hours have seen even faster gains than men (although they still earn less on average).

Rather, the trend contributes to the wage gap because men are so much more likely than women to work those long hours. That, in turn, is the result of a confluence of factors that are deeply embedded in the American economy and society: Women, on average, spend much more time than men on housework, while men — especially a certain category of highly educated, elite men — are expected to work as much as possible.

Arguably, the cultural norm of mothers as primary caregivers is holding women back from closing the wage gap in more ways than just hindering them from working longer hours.

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Making Room for the New American Dad

Making Room for the New American Dad

The State of America’s Fathers 2016, the first report of its kind from MenCare and Promundo, takes a detailed look at the evolving nature of fatherhood in the US and finds that dads are playing a more hands-on role in parenting than ever before. Promundo-US founder and CEO Gary Barker and Michael Kimmel, executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University, discuss the findings at Fast Company. While fathers are doing much more, they note, mothers still carry the bigger burden:

Over the past 30 years, American fathers have increased the time they spend with their children during the workday by 65% on average. According to our study’s data analysis, nearly half (48%) of currently partnered American fathers now self-identify as either sharing responsibility with their partners or as their children’s primary caregiver.

However, while fathers have nearly tripled their time on child care (from two and a half to seven hours a week) and more than doubled their time on housework (from four to 10 hours weekly) between 1965 and 2011, mothers are still spending twice as much time on child care as fathers are (an increasein women’s total time on child care from 1965) and significantly more time on housework.

They also observe that the number of stay-at-home fathers has grown dramatically in recent decades:

There are nearly 2 million men in the U.S. who are full-time, stay-at-home-dads; that’s an increase from exactly six men in the 1970s. More than a trendy thing to do, it is a necessity for many households. In a national survey of stay-at-home dads, 23% said they stayed home with their children because they were unable to find work. Stay-at-home dads are half as likely to have a high school diploma as working fathers, and almost half of stay-at-home dads are living in poverty.

For most American dads, however, fatherly duties compete for their attention with full-time jobs—and the jobs usually win out. As men become more involved in parenting, sociologist Gayle Kaufman adds at the Conversation, our work culture needs to change:

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‘Time Poverty’: the Gender Gap We Don’t Talk About

‘Time Poverty’: the Gender Gap We Don’t Talk About

In their annual public letter discussing their philanthropic priorities this year, Bill and Melinda Gates answer a question they were recently asked by a group of high school students: “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?” Melinda’s answer is “more time.” As she points out, free time is in short supply for women around the world, who find that unpaid labor tends to eat it up: That mainly means housework, but also includes the emotional labor that women perform in various settings, to a much greater extent than men:

Unpaid work is what it says it is: It’s work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. But every society needs it to function. You can think of unpaid work as falling into three main categories: cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and the elderly. Who packs your lunch? Who fishes the sweaty socks out of your gym bag? Who hassles the nursing home to make sure your grandparents are getting what they need? Now, this work has to be done by somebody. But it’s overwhelmingly women who are expected to do it, for free, whether they want to or not.

This holds true in every single country in the world. Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work. Men spend less than half that much time. But the fact is that the burden of unpaid work falls heaviest on women in poor countries, where the hours are longer and the gap between women and men is wider. In India, to take one example, women spend about 6 hours, and men spend less than 1 hour.

This imbalance of unpaid labor leaves millions—perhaps billions—of women facing a problem Gates calls “time poverty.” In a video, she explains what it is and why it matters:

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