A common question within gender and politics (and one that is worth discussing) is whether or not society and self-perceived familial obligations influence women to cater their career aspirations to work around a family. What role does a woman’s expectations of her responsibilities to a future family have on her working expectations? I believe women greatly weigh their career aspirations on their household ambitions and the responsibilities that will come with those. Freedman found that in studying family and career aspirations of college-aged women, career commitment and career value were two measures that were found to be more important to “achieved” women (those who found identity through psychosocial exploration rather than through the status quo) (FREEDMAN, B. A. (1987). Ego Identity Status And The Family And Career Priorities Of College Women (Order No. 8718347). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303483196). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/303483196?accountid=4488). From this, we may conclude that women that fall into the tradition role expectations of women (like perhaps in the LDS culture, where the importance of families in emphasized) will be less likely to find career commitment and value as important as other things- like a family, perhaps. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 4 male and 5 female students—all unmarried. These students varied slightly in religion (7 Mormons, 1 non-religious, 1 non-denomination Christian) and widely in university studies. The following questions were asked to all participants:
1. What is your year in school and major?
2. What are your plans after you graduate?
3. What is your career aspiration and why?
4. What is your ideal work/family life balance for the future? Do you have one?
5. What compensation do you hope to receive from your first job (pay, time off, benefits, etc.)?
6. What obligations at home or in your future family do you feel you’ll have after graduation?
7. How do family obligations shape your career aspiration?
8. Does society affect your career aspiration?
The results of the one-on-one interviews somewhat reflected the hypothesis that women take familial responsibilities into account when determining career goals. A few women, however, indicated that having a family had little effect on their career choices. This may be explained by a study done by Nicole Lynn Kangas in which she found young women usually do not give family and career life balance much thought, and often think that they can “do it all.” (Kangas, N. L. (2011). Forming families and careers: The effects of family size, first birth timing, and early family aspirations on U.S. women's mental health, labor force participation, and career choices (Order No. 3486029). Available from GenderWatch; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (907104817). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/docview/907104817?accountid=4488) Out of all the women I interviewed, all had post-graduation plans to work before having children—there were no participants that aspired to stay home. For each woman, they aspired to work flexible jobs that would allow them to care for children as well. Only one woman (the non-religious participant) reported that motherhood, to her, was not a priority in her life, and her career would chronologically come first. The other women stated that their responsibility within the home was to raise children, so they had to at least somewhat adapt their career goals to those responsibilities. The overall message from the female interviewees was that although working is a goal, that goal will be sacrificed if needed, in order to fulfill the responsibility of being mother.
All of the male respondents explained that their perceived primary responsibility in their future families is to provide. To each of them, this meant making a good amount of money (many reported they hope to make hundreds of thousands of dollars annually) while also being able to spend time at home helping their future children and wife. Each male respondent plans on attending additional schooling after their undergraduate, while only half of the women reported wanting to do so.
Interestingly, only one woman admitted to having been influenced by society when it comes to choosing a career. This respondent explained by saying, “Society makes achieving career aspirations harder; I hear, ‘You cannot have your career and be a mother.’ After hearing it so often, it starts to affect you.” Contrastingly, every male respondent told me they had, in some way, be influenced by society in choosing a career path. Most felt pressure to have a high-paying, “titled” jobs (lawyer, businessman, doctor, etc.) in order to provide for their families and follow the promptings of society. In analyzing the career choices of the women, only two aspired to high-paying, prestigious careers: an optometrist and a lawyer (compared to the men’s results of one politician, two lawyers, and two one businessman). It is very likely that the lack of women’s aspiration to reach high-ranking professional status has to do with their perceived responsibility to have a family—raising children leaves far less time to spend in an office reaching the highest ranks.
The interview results coincide with what we have discussed in class regarding gender socialization, at least for the males. Men often feel pressure to achieve high-status professions and make large amounts of money—no man in the interview expressed pressure to stay at home and care for kids, and only a couple of the interviewees expressed interest in sharing parental responsibilities with their wives. The aspirations of the women who participated in the interview reflect the unequal representation of women in many, traditionally male-dominated fields. A big factor for women not participating in demanding professions is their commitment to their families. Finally, the results of the interviews align with the information discussed in class about childcare and housework. While a few women expressed a responsibility to be a homemaker (cooking, cleaning, and childcare), no men did.
Although the findings of these interviews suggest a woman and her career may have detrimental effects on the family, that conclusion may not necessarily prove true. Lackey found that in comparing self-perceptions of family life between families with working mothers and families with non-working mothers, there was no difference in the quality of family life. (LACKEY, B. C. (1981). Perceptions Of The Quality Of Family Life Of Career Women And Their Families And Non-career Women And Their Families (Order No. 8127507). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303207495). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/303207495?accountid=4488). Maybe it is not the amount of time mothers spend with their children, but the quality of the time spent with their children. Other factors, such as communication and family support could be far more valuable to children than just the mere presence of a parent. Many factors contribute to women in professional fields (or the lack thereof), but if we can determine that working women do not have a detrimental effect on their families, perhaps the fear of being unfair to familial responsibilities could be diminished and female representation in male-dominated fields will increase.