Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Where do the mothers belong?

Issues regarding the gender bias of men and women invite controversial conversation and statements that many bring with emotional argument and are flooded without any truth. The conversation surrounding gender bias in terms of work/life balance is one with many varying opinions. The following article will bring to the discussion, points and issues from both sides of the argument. A survey, collected at Brigham Young University will be used as the basis by which educated conclusions will be made about the various conflicts and issues involving work life balance of both men and women. Brigham Young University is a place unlike any other in terms of demographic and could potentially create a bias with the data collected. Recognition of the ability to mirror the data to fit a general consensus of the public would be misinterpreted, allowing for narrow analysis of the results to be made. However, it is important to note that the data is a representation of the demographic of the Brigham Young University and could be applied therein. 
           Workplace and personal life balance is an issue that effects each and every individual in the working population. This strived balance of these two areas is especially emphasized for men and women with families and children at home. The focus on family values has significantly decreased in recent years, however the importance of these issues is still at the forefront of both the conversation and emphasis of many families. According to a mental health foundation survey one third of respondents feel unhappy about the time they devote to work, in addition to more than 40% of employees who neglect other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems. Patterns show that as the number of working hours increase, so do the feelings of unhappiness. 

                  A survey was distributed to a variety of students at Brigham Young University with the intent and purpose of learning about their opinions and dreams for their future career. Questions were asked in regards to their expected post salary wage, their work life balance expectations, and roles within the home and how they could be divided. Overall, the results seems to fit in line with similar attitudes that would be expected coming from a mainly LDS population/ data pool, however the collected information yielded interesting results that could allow for innovative conclusions and solutions that can be mirrored onto the world at large.  

86% of survey participant wanted the husband to be the primary financial provider, however the minimum level of education expected of a spouse to obtain was an undergraduate degree. This inconsistency is especially surprising considering that 56% of survey participants preferred having the wife be the primary homemaker. It seems a little odd that all participants expect an undergraduate degree at the minimum of their spouse when 56% of these individuals would be using this degree to perform reproductive labor. This highlights the inconsistency in expectation and norms in our present-day society. Research on this topic reflects an increase in women attending college and also graduating with more job placement success than men. According to a Pew Research study, 20% of women entering the workforce in 2013 were better educated than their male counterparts. In addition, the amount of women entering the workforce continues to grow. The results of the initial survey ask a question about a new standard that women are encouraged or feel forced to uphold that in turn, allow them to have more expose, and overtime encourage them to pursue a career or rise from the bound career of homemaker. 

In an open-ended section of the survey participants were asked about what their dream career would entail. Only two individuals spoke of their desire to be a stay at home mom. This speaks volumes and causes me to wonder, where is the fallout between dreams and reality? Is there a discrepancy between husbands wanting their wives to be primary homecare giver, while women have career aspirations similar to their male counterparts? Or are there women who are striving to have the best of both worlds? Or is this just a case of women dreaming of a future that is beyond their reach?  When asking these questions, I am reminded of a New York Times article written months about entitled, “You can’t have it all.” In this article, it discusses one woman’s struggle as she “tries” out the working mother life. In the end, after all she has done and accomplishes, she feels saddened by her inability to provide for her families needs. This same principle echos truth within the work of this individual survey in the sense that women are dreaming larger, and equal to their male counterparts in terms of where they would like their career to go.

The research even concluded that women expect a lower post-graduation salary than their male colleagues. 52% of women expected their post-graduation salary to be lower than $40,000 while a mere 17% of males expected this low of a salary. Thus proving that women have lower self-perceived workplace parity. This matters more than one would think. Why would a wife perceive her career as equal in importance to her husband when she expects her salary to be a minimum of $50,000 less than her husband’s career? This also speaks volumes to the popular discussion of equal pay and the gap between compensation of a man and woman. Most often, we hear complaints that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar, in addition to the large discrepancy in benefits that men have compared to women. This research questions whether men, or even the hiring system is the blame for the pay scale, but instead suggests that the self-worth of women play a major role in contributing to the problem. 

In fact, only one male survey participant desired to be anything less than a primary financial contributor. Is this indicative of our sample? It could be argued that with the extreme conservative attitude of the patriarchal society and traditional principles surrounding the LDS church, the attitude is born and prevails that men have the duty to be the provider and support the family not only monetarily but also emotionally and spiritually. I pause when asking whether this is a problem, specific to BYU or whether attitudes are similar among the general public. 
          It is important to note the severe limitations placed upon this survey merely by the small number of individuals who were able to participate. Because there was such a low number of participants, the conclusions drawn from the survey are all very speculative, however with the sample size larger than 30 and from a random sample of Brigham Young University students, the conclusions drawn should still be reputable and valid. 

         Overall, the results found in the individually ran survey were interesting and helpful in attempts to understand the issues surrounding the balance of work/life and how gender plays a role in workforce discrimination. As Valerie Hudson once pointed out, the main issue at hand is why women cannot work full time or even part time and contribute at home, without being considered a “bad mom,” compared to men who are able to easily be a successful businessman and also never struggle to still be considered a “good dad.” Although many argue this is the attitude change needed for the LDS culture, and arguably the world at large, however I pause to look at the undeniable research that claims the ideals often expressed through various conversations regarding this topic, in discussion and completely different then they are in reality and application. I encourage each and every man and woman to see what situation and outcome works best for their own individual family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Firefighters, Dancers, and Homemakers: Career Ambitions from Elementary School to College

In kindergarten, children are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Typical answers include firefighter and doctor for boys, and dancer and teacher for girls. Almost every child changes their mind by the time they graduate high school, often a result of realizing realistic expectations or discovering passions. Typical careers after high school graduation include business, law, medicine, and education. Numerous studies have looked at changing ambitions and how those are often gendered. Let’s take a step back though: where does being a homemaker fit into this mix? While being a full-time homemaker doesn't earn wages, it most certainly can be considered a full-job.

In order to look these career ambitions change from elementary school to after high school, including being a homemaker, I conducted a survey that asked a battery of questions about career ambitions, life goals, and the home-work life balance, along with basic demographics. For a complete topline report, please inquire with the author.

This research has obvious limitations. For one, the sample size is very small before breaking it down for analysis, and once broken down into demographic categories is even smaller. Due to limited resources, the survey was fielded on Facebook. The target group was 18-24 year olds, which made Facebook a good launching pad. Of those that identified their age, 76% are 18-24 year olds. Another limitation is that this sample is heavily composed of active LDS. Combining the age and religiosity limitations, these findings are not generalizable to a general US audience. Rather, these findings and the subsequent remarks can only be generalized to young LDS adults and their career ambitions.

First off, we see that family life is very important to this sample. 97% say that having a successful marriage is very important, and 95% say that being a good parent is very important. On all other questions, we see a more normal bell curve forming, including some people choosing the “don’t know” option. On these two questions however, every respondent had a set position.

Strong family values are again prevalent when respondents are asked how much they agree or disagree with a battery of statements about career goals and progression. 94% of the sample disagreed with the idea of being single over married to have a more successful career, and 78% of the sample disagreed with the statement claiming that children hindered a successful career. Basically, people are very family-centric. Interestingly, a majority of the sample also claims that they have “clear and firm career goals.” According to this graph, this sample seems to want both a solid family life as well as a good career. Years ago, this balance seemed relatively unachievable, especially for women. However, recent research has shown that more and more couples are trying to create a balance in family life, moving from the typical model of “mother-knows-best” or “the involved dad married to the stressed-out working mom,” instead moving toward the idea of being equals and peers (i). Comparatively, this sample appears to be somewhat aligning with the newer model.

Our data shows that nearly a quarter of the sample identifies “homemaker” as their dream career. This finding seems a bit surprising considering the previous data, but given the sample it does not seem that odd. As mentioned earlier, this sample is heavily LDS (of those who identified with a religion, 87% selected LDS). Mormon doctrine promotes the idea that men be the primary provider for the home and women be the primary homemaker and caretaker of the children (ii). As such, women choosing to be homemakers does not seem so odd in the LDS community.

When we break down the dream careers by gender, we see that when asked about “right now,” everyone that selected “Homemaker” was female. Contrastingly, men are much more likely to stick to typical careers. For example, 50% of male respondents say that their dream career falls under “Business.”

One of the last questions that respondents were given asked them how many years in the future did they plan to be a stay-at-home parent. As would be expected from the previous graph, 80% of female respondents indicated that they eventually planned to be or already were a stay-at-home parent, with another 7% unsure. In contrast, 57% of male respondents never planned to be a stay-at-home parent. What that does mean, though, is that 29% of the male sample plans on being a homemaker at one point (note: given the very small sample of males, these percentages cannot be taken as concrete values).

At one point, respondents were asked how much of the time their mother and father were each the designated homemaker in their homes. Contrastingly, respondents were then asked how much they expected them and their spouse to be the designated homemaker in the home. We see that mothers were overwhelmingly the primary caretaker. Of interest is the fact that when asked about their future life, respondents seemed to reflect a more even balance between husband and wife. While the totals are not close to an even 50%, they are moving in that direction.

We decided to break down the homemaker expectations by gender to see how they differ. Women actually expect to do more work than their spouse, while men indicate that they are willing to be the designated homemaker for about 1/3 of the time. Simply put, females expect to be the dominate homemaker, but males are more willing than females understand.

All in all, we still see the typical gender roles of female stay in the home and males in the work place manifested in these findings. While more than 70% of the female sample has a career plan of sorts, nearly 30% plan to be a homemaker. In both questions that asked about time in the home, women expected to be in the home more, but males also expect to be there some, and more so than past generations.

Having two working parents is not so odd anymore, and couples balancing children and work is not so odd either. However, women who do choose to stay home are becoming increasingly accused of “opting out” of a bigger career, or “settling” for their children instead of pursuing a career. A mother’s choice to work or not is a very personal choice, and more often than not there is not a choice in order to provide for the family. As such, women who are choosing to stay at home are seen as less determined than those who are in the work force, and from personal experience alone I can say that that is not the case. To alter this thought process, I propose another solution that starts from the bottom: what if we were to let kindergarten children choose “homemaker” as their chosen career? I wonder if there would be less scrutiny on those who do choose to stay home, since it would be treated like any other full-time career. Soon, our list may be expanded to include not just firefighter and dancer, but homemaker as well.

i.                     Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” The New York Times, 15 June 2008. Web. 18 November 2014.

ii.                   Hinckley, Gordon B. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” 23 September 1995. PDF file.

Comfortable With What We Know

For this piece, I interviewed twelve BYU students, six male and six female, about their future plans and goals. Brigham Young University is heavily influenced by LDS culture, but I tried to get as varied of a sample as possible in both background and field of study. None of the participants were married, but about half were dating someone exclusively at the time of the interview. The interviews followed a guide that consisted of three sections: expectations individual had for their chosen career paths, what factors influence their current decisions, and anticipated family and work balance. While answers to specific questions varied from individual to individual, there were a number of overall trends that both reinforced and contradicted some of the literature we have read.

 An interesting dichotomy in answers arose when asked about expectations for future careers. Every one of the men expected to work in a job that would provide financial security to support a family. Many of the males talked about the different stages they anticipated in their careers and seemed to have a pretty good idea of the financial compensation that would come at those times. All of them planned on working long enough to secure full retirement benefits and many talked about their plans to “give back” or become more involved in their community after they retired. The women, on the other hand, were much more likely to express interest in being involved in their community throughout their lives, and over half talked about how they planned on being involved in their children’s schools. All of the females talked about how they thought it was important to be able to support their families financially if necessary, but many saw their work future as either part-time or in phases. This ties in interestingly to The Atlantic article --many women agreed that they do not think it is realistic to expect women to balance a full-time career and successful family life. Almost all of them planned on staying home with their future children for at least some of their lives.  Overall, both men and women seemed to have a pretty clear idea of what type of work they would be interested in doing. However, many of the women expressed actually doing this work in a part-time setting or before and after they took some time off to raise their children. Men expressed less flexibility in their plans and seemed more set on their anticipated path. This reminds me of an op-ed I recently read that calls for more attention to the issue of the gap between talking about shared goals and careers and actually implementing that in practice (warning: there is some language). Respondents did not seemed overly concerned with this issue, which raises the question of whether it is being talked about enough to ensure both men and women have the opportunity to express their career goals.

 Both males and females are influenced in their current decisions by personal interest, familial and societal pressures, and future goals. While most of the participants expressed a desire to study something that they found interesting, many of the women said they were more likely to choose something they were passionate about even if they knew it was not guaranteed to lead to a lucrative job. While they all acknowledged the importance of being able to provide for themselves, only one was planning on being the primary breadwinner in her future family. These women were capable and some were very ambitious, but overall most of their current decisions were based more on doing something they were interested in and that would prepare them to be a better mother than something that would set them up to make a lot of money. Every single male expressed that his field of study was influenced by his desire to be able to provide for his future family. Two male respondents were adamant that you could study almost anything and still make connections and develop the necessary skills needed to be successful, but they were both majoring in fields that would likely set them up for success. Males were more like to see undergraduate decisions as necessary steps to make sure they were competitive job applicants, even if they did not feel passionate about what they were studying. Overall, men felt more pressure to choose something more traditionally “masculine”, which ties in to Kaufman’s ideas about society’s masculine expectations for men (Kaufman 1991). Women felt more freedom in what they chose to study. In fact, the women who were in fields traditionally dominated by men actually felt supported in their decisions and felt like they had benefitted from being the minority. The women said that while they did not necessarily enjoy being the “token woman” in their male dominated classes, they did not feel unable or unlikely to speak up. This contradicts predicted results that research on deliberation would have suggested (Resenthal et al 2003, Mendelberg, Karpowitz, Oliphant 2014). It was encouraging to hear that both sexes were just as likely to complete internships and express the importance of networking and knowing how to market oneself. The women who were graduating soon were looking seriously into jobs that would allow them to be self-reliant and gain experience, either for career advancement or graduate school.

When respondents were asked about what they expected for their future family and work balance almost all expressed that many things would greatly depend on the type of person they marry. Most of the men expressed their desire to balance a successful career and family life while women expressed a career as a second priority to a happy family life. About half of each gender also talked about their desire to be able to fulfill church responsibilities. As already expressed, almost all of the women talked about staying home with their children, at least while the children were young. While over half conveyed the desire to work full-time at some point in their lives, many talked about how this would have to be balanced with what their partner wanted—none of the men mentioned the possibility of their wife working full-time. A few thought the ideas of co-parenting were interesting, but none brought up the idea on their own. Both males and females shared positive examples from their own lives of people who had successfully had the kind of life they envisioned for themselves. This ties in with the idea that we are often comfortable with things we have already seen and set our expectations according to the examples we have grown up seeing. This draws some parallels to the articles about representation, and makes me wonder if more of these women had examples of mothers who work full-time if that is what they would strive for. Mansbridge suggests that descriptive representation, being represented by people who share the same characteristics (ie race and gender), is important for true representation and perhaps this could be applied to career expectations for women as well (Mansbridge 2007).

Overall, both men and women respondents saw their career paths as a way to help them live happy and productive lives. How they predicted themselves going about this varied; men were more likely to express finding fulfillment out of knowing they were providing for their family while many women thought fulfillment would come primarily from raising children. It is important to look at this limited qualitative data critically and acknowledge the possible cultural factors that could influence these decisions. Perhaps the most encouraging result I found was the openness all expressed in supporting those who might choose a different path than their own. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Does "the world" choose our career or do we?

Do you remember being asked throughout your childhood, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was question that frequented my childhood. In kindergarten my teacher had our class draw pictures of what we wanted to be when we grew up. I have very little recollection of this experience, but upon graduating elementary my kindergarten teacher delivered those pictures to us. I wanted to be a ballerina, along with every other girl in my class. Almost all the boys had pictures of firefighters. So what happened to all those ballerinas and firefighters? And at the time, why didn't I choose to be something else? 

One of the greatest determinants of career choice and aspirations is the way we are socialized, or the social norms which make up our world. Amongst male and female undergraduate students of the Latter-day Saint faith we find that ideals of the future impact career choice and aspirations today. That makes sense though right? We set goals and make plans that reflect those goals. Before diving into that discussion let’s look at some of the “future ideals” these undergraduates have listed.

When asked about career plans, few students jump into a discussion about family. Most were influenced by talents developed, experiences had, or advice given from parents, friends, and teachers. However, as soon as family or balancing work and home life is brought into question, well, here are a few anonymous responses:

 “I plan to work part-time mid-day so that I can be home with my family when they awake and so we can have dinner.”-Female student

“Hard, but to be honest I haven’t thought much about details yet.” –Male student

This is a pattern, in general male students haven’t thought too much about the details of family life. All they have decided is that it will be a part of their future. On the other hand, female students have generally chosen career paths that will allow for adjustments such as part-time work in order to accommodate raising a family. These tendencies include single females.

Not too many of them consider this future:

Like all studies these interviews and surveys found a few outliers (people who didn’t follow the general trends).

A young mother about to finish her undergraduate degree expressed frustration with “the world’s” view on things. She said, “I have chosen to stay home with my son because I know it's what is right, even though many people look down on it. There is a lot of pressure in the U.S. for women to seek after careers and let other people raise their children, but I know that what is best for my child is for me to be at home with him.”

Another phenomenon present in the discussion with students was that several minority cultured women felt particularly motivated to excel and be an example for the youth of their minority group.

Why is this important?

The big decisions made that set up the path of a person’s life are being made to accommodate a life of patriarchal ideals. That means that while a great part of the world is working toward equality between men and women, these students are heading in the opposite direction.

If we look at the benefits of our progress to eliminate gender inequality so far we can see the need to continue. Stephanie Coontz of the New York Times explains,

“Domestic violence rates have been halved since 1993, while rapes and sexual assaults against women have fallen by 70 percent in that time. In recent decades, husbands have doubled their share of housework and tripled their share of child care. And this change is not confined to highly educated men.”

Promotion of gender equality in the home will have a large effect on gender equality in education and the work place. To promote equality in the home Megan Blandford comments,

Australian Institute of Family Studies showed that regardless of whether women stay home, work part-time or full-time, they still take on a significantly greater load of housework and childcare than men…I believe that in order for the wider world to further progress gender equality we need to first change what happens behind closed doors.

Just as the educational gender gap has turned in favor of women as opposed to men there is a reason for women in the work place. Annie-Marie Slaughter explains,

“Losing smart and motivated women not only diminishes a company’s talent pool; it also reduces the return on its investment in training and mentoring. In trying to address these issues, some firms are finding out that women’s ways of working may just be better ways of working, for employees and clients alike.”

As we look to close the gender gap in all aspects of life, both social and private, we see a richer future. Many female students understand housework and childcare to be their responsibility. Others choose it out of preference. Ultimately, the decision lies with every individual and or couple. In her article, 6 Tools for Sharing Chores and Childcare with Your PartnerKristin Maschka shares from Dr. Tamar Kremer-Sadlik,

a woman's satisfaction is not about an equal amount of labor but that there is a sense of coordination and shared goal of doing something for the family, of working as a team, even if the two of them are not doing exactly the same amount.

To learn more about what you can do, visit the websites listed at the bottom of this post.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“The Remnants of Sexism: Alive and Well”

During an election period, it is very typical for Americans to become informed on the candidates and the issues through the media. In fact, it is pretty much the only way to stay informed unless you had a personal relationship with the candidates, which most of the average Americans do not. The way we as the voting public get our information is by such a way that information can become skewed very easily. Depending on the channel one is on, who is talking during that particular show, or what issue is being talked about, it is important to know that there are many biases. As human beings we all have biases but it is so important to pick these biases out when receiving information. This was shown greatly during the primaries before and the actual 2012 Presidential race.

When looking at sexism in our country and the media succumbing to this sexism, it is hard to not think about Hillary Clinton.  She is one of the pioneers in the women in politics movement. She has been dealing with this since she first entered the political sphere. When she was competing against Barack Obama for the Democratic nominee the media talked about them very differently from one another. Mark Rudov went so far to say, “When Barack Obama speaks, men hear, ‘Take off for the future.’ And when Hilary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage.[1]” This is just one example of the type of scrutiny Hillary Clinton received for the simple fact that she is a women. A few years ago, while at a rally a man started yelling, “Iron my shirt![2]” repeatedly. Hillary quickly responds with, “The remnants of sexism: alive and well!” when the crowd erupted with cheers and applause. This display of sexism I can almost guarantee would have never shown up at a Mitt Romney rally. Nothing would ever be shouted at a male candidate about the fact that they are a man. It just simply does not come up.

Most recently the media has been questioning whether Hillary Clinton is too old to be running for the candidacy[3]. In case you were unaware of Hilary Clinton’s age she is 67 years old, which is the exact same age as Mitt Romney. Never in Mitt Romney’s campaign was his age ever addressed as a problem or something to be concerned about. Why then is Clinton’s? A few more candidates that are significantly older than Hillary Clinton are Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and John McCain. These men, whose ages go up to eleven years older than Clinton, rarely had their age talked about during the races they competed in. This also goes along with being a grandparent—both of which Clinton and Romney are. Mitt Romney is awaiting the birth of his twenty-third grandchild. Hillary Clinton welcomed her first grandchild this past September. Can you guess what the media immediately started discussing? Whether or not Hillary Clinton becoming a grandmother would affect her ability to run and win the Presidency in 2016. [4]. However, when Mitt Romney was running in the 2012  
election, the fact that he then had twenty-two grandchildren did not even come up in question. The media did not bat an eye to this. In fact, I would argue that this made the media, and consequently the American people, love Romney even more. It made him seem like a good, down-to-earth, family guy. However, the second it becomes a women that has the grandchildren, it all of a sudden affects her ability to run a country.
People were speculating whether or not she would even announce candidacy and how she would juggle being a new grandmother and campaigning for the Presidency

A Kentucky senator has said recently that the Democrats’ “presidential ticket for 2016 is shaping up to look like a rerun of The Golden Girls,”[5] alluding primarily to Clinton. The fact that there are many women on the Democratic ticket should be a cause for celebration, not a source of one-liners. Through these different stabs at Hillary Clinton, it has made many Americans scared for a women candidate to actually become president. There is a complete double bind in the media when regarding female candidates. If they are too serious they boring and heartless, but if they are too emotional they are seen as unstable. “While men gain stature and clout by expressing anger, women who express it are seen as being out of control, and lose stature.[6]” It is hard for women to win. No matter what they are doing, they will lose in the eyes of the media. The media wants them to act like a man yet when they do they are seen as too harsh and abrasive. The media has so much power in how the American people view a candidate. It is so important to acknowledge when the media is judging a candidate on their gender instead of their ability to lead this country. Only then will we start to see a change for true gender equality in this country.