The Parent Gap
Previous research has discovered a well-established “parent gap” where women with children earn 60 cents to every man’s dollar while women without children earn 94 cents for every dollar earned by a man (Budig 2010). Additionally, mothers are much less likely to be found in leadership roles and managerial positions. Clearly, the gap that many are wont to refer to as the pay gender gap is actually a pay gap between mothers and all other employees.
While it may appear that intentional discrimination by employers is the cause, very little evidence has shown this to be the case. Instead, what has been found is that the discrepancy exists because of the choices made by mothers to spend more time with their families and less time building their careers. These choices can be affected by a variety of factors, yet the one I am most interested in is religious beliefs, specifically those held by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Research on members of the LDS church has shown that they are more likely to support a traditional division of labor between the sexes than people who are non religious and even those who belong to highly religious Christian denominations (Carroll et al. 2000).
Pondering upon this research led me to the question: How does parenthood affect the careers of mothers and fathers differently, particularly among professionals of the LDS faith?
Finding the answers to my research question led me to conduct interviews with faculty members at Brigham Young University, the largest religious university in the United States, from the college of Family Home, and Social Sciences. I chose to limit myself to professors within this domain from comparison purposes, because education paths are more similar among the social sciences than they are with other fields.
My questions began by asking about the interviewee’s career path, and then asked about their family situation (such as age when married, how many children he/she has, spouse’s education/career path). I then asked about how the interviewees felt parenthood affected their careers, and what sacrifices they had made for their families and for their careers. Lastly, I asked about the role that religious beliefs played in the choices they made.
Among my interviewees, I found that parenthood affected the careers of women in more negative ways than it did men. In terms of their careers, mothers felt that they had given up a great deal on behalf of their families. As an example, a few mothers did not receive their PhDs until they were nearly forty, because they had spent their twenties and early thirties raising their children. This choice dramatically decreased both their earning potential and their chances for advancing along the tenure track. Another woman, who is currently a mother of a two-year-old, is confident that she could have published a great deal more had she not become a mother.
The fathers I interviewed felt their careers in some small ways had kept them from their families. One father mentioned how he was unable to join his wife and children for a summer vacation the previous year because of his work. Another father talked about how he was often unable to get away from work in order to join his family on their small outings, and expressed a wish that he could be there more often. In contrast, one mother with young children adequately expressed the view of many of the mothers I interviewed. She explained, “I figure out what my family needs first, and then I fit my job in afterward.”
As a part of their careers, women felt more cognitive dissonance than did men. Cognitive dissonance is feeling uncomfortable or unsettled because of conflicting ideas about who you should be versus who you are, and the cognitive dissonance these mothers experienced was due mainly to their religious beliefs. These professors had all felt pressure at some point to stay home and embrace their primary role as nurturers. Surprisingly, almost every woman I interviewed emphatically discussed that they were all doing what they felt was what God wanted them to do. They believe they have a mission to complete and as part of that mission, they needed to be working as a professor.
While parenthood plays an important role in these professors’ decisions, both male and female professor interviewed mentioned the importance of having a strong marriage. One mother has a handicapped son and she explained that it would have been impossible to cope with both her son and her career had her husband not been so incredibly selfless and supporting. This theme was also found among men. One professor cited his wife for helping him to complete his dissertation, and he said that without her he would not be where he is today. His wants to get her own PhD and this professor said. “After all she has done for me, you better believe that I am going to be there for her when it’s her turn.”
Why We Care
At some point in their lives, almost all of us will have family responsibilities, which will likely become the most important aspects of our life. Concurrently, many will have work responsibilities that play an important part in their day-to-day lives. Yet employers often do little to ease the balance between these two necessary responsibilities. The institutional set-up of workplaces needs to change to reflect the varied duties of their employees to their families.
Budig, Michelle J. 2010. New evidence on the pay gap for women and mothers in management. Testimony before U.S. Congressional Joint Economic Committee. September 28.
Carroll, Jason S., Steven T. Linford, Thomas B. Holman and M. Busby. 2000. Marital and family orientations among highly religious young adults: Comparing Latter-day Saints with traditional Christians. Review of Religious Research 42, no. 2 (December): 193-205.
Images via National Geographic