When Going Gets Tough, Women Forced To Quit


Today in unsurprising but still depressing studies: having a husband who works long hours makes women more likely to quit their jobs. Also unsurprisingly, the same is not true for men with hard-working wives.

According to Youngjoo Cha, a doctoral candidate at Cornell, being married to a man who works 60 hours or more per week increases a woman’s chances of quitting her own job by 42%. And if she’s also a mom, her chances of quitting increase by 112%. But the hours a woman works don’t significantly affect whether her husband quits. Cha notes that the effect of men’s hours on women’s careers is especially strong “among workers in professional and managerial occupations, where the norm of overwork and the culture of intensive parenting tend to be strongest.” But maybe those in “professional and managerial occupations” are also more likely to be able to afford to become single-income households.

Cha explains that “As long work-hours introduce conflict between work and family into many dual-earner families, couples often resolve conflict in ways that prioritize husbands’ careers,” but coverage of the study doesn’t delve much into the many possible reasons for this. The obvious one is that women are still expected to care for a home and children in ways that men are not — and the study press release does note that “Women have less time available to do paid work because they still are expected to do more housework and perform most of the caregiving responsibilities.” The release doesn’t mention if a woman’s income has any effect on her chance of quitting, but I’d imagine that women’s generally lower salaries factor into many such decisions. In fact, it’s possible that the wage gap creates a sort of vicious cycle: women are paid less for the same jobs in part because employers fear they’ll drop out to focus on family, then when couples find themselves squeezed for time, women do drop out because they earn less, feeding right back into the process. It’s also possible that women’s negotiation styles come into play. Women are often raised to be conciliatory and non-confrontational, and thus more likely than men to “resolve a conflict” by giving up something important, like a career.

The question of what we can do about all this is a thorny one. It’s obvious that the expectation that women should be the ones to pick up the “second shift” — and to make it, at a certain point, their only shift — is a damaging one, and obviously we should be raising boys and young men to think of themselves as equal partners raising their families and maintaining their homes. But employers bear some responsibility here too. We would almost certainly be a healthier and happier society if our jobs were flexible enough to allow for the flux of doctor’s appointments, teacher meetings, and household crises that seem to drive many mothers out of the workplace. That this seems like a total pipe dream is an indication of a bizarre schism in American thinking — though so many people have both jobs and families, the world of the former almost never acknowledges the latter. Until we change this, providing for a family and actually spending time with it will always be in “conflict.”

For Dual-Income Husbands And Wives, It’s Still A Man’s World [EurekAlert]

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