Family Leave

here’s a NYT magazine feature piece on family leave, and a survey of what “comparable” western industrialized nations offer by way of family leave.

it’s a way of looking at the “mommy wars”–the ongoing battle between “choice feminists” and those who criticize them, like linda hirshman–but from the other side. when you do have a job (out of economic necessity or abstractions like self-actualization), and a family, but employers put a “mommy tax” on your head, then how do you fulfill obligations at home and at work?

something that hit home, and which i feel keenly given the retrograde sexual politics that seem to dominate hollywood (land of the disgusting old coot with the hot young trophy wife–no different than the highest echelons of corporate america maybe?):

What women alone appear to encounter is a powerful set of negative assumptions associated with motherhood. The rise of lawsuits in recent years has coincided with a new body of research, much of it produced by a scholarly project called the Cognitive Bias Working Group. One member of the group is Shelley Correll, a sociologist at Cornell. A few years ago, Correll was poring over labor-market data and noticed that while the gap between the wages of men and women had narrowed, the gap between mothers and everyone else remained wide. She wanted to understand why. As an experiment, Correll and other researchers asked volunteers to evaluate a pool of equally qualified male and female job applicants. On some résumés, a clue signaled that the applicant was a parent. Correll also sent 1,276 résumés for entry-level and midlevel marketing jobs to 638 real employers.

The results, as reported in the May 2007 issue of The American Journal of Sociology, are striking. Among the volunteers, mothers were consistently viewed as less competent and less committed and were held to higher performance and punctuality standards. They were 79 percent less likely to be hired and, if hired, would be offered a starting salary $11,000 lower than nonmothers. Fathers, by contrast, were offered the highest salaries of all. Meanwhile, in the test run with real-world employers, the hypothetical female applicants without children were more than twice as likely as equally qualified mothers to be called back for interviews. Correll’s findings echo a discovery made by the psychologist Amy Cuddy. Cuddy asked volunteers to evaluate four imaginary professionals: a childless female, a childless male, a mother and a father. All these professionals had identical experience and educational backgrounds. Yet the mothers were given the lowest competency ratings, by both male and female evaluators, and were least likely to be recommended for hiring and promotions.

when you are “mommy taxed,” you’re penalized in salary and expectation with regard to your commitment to your job. set this against fathers, who earn the highest salaries of all, and you’ve doubled the disparity women with families face.

you’re also “mommy taxed” by having to do the second shift at home, organizing, planning, monitoring, implementing, and otherwise performing all the scutwork of family life (throwing a perfect children’s birthday party, anyone? stuffing 40 fucking goodie bags til midnight sound familiar?), plus the housework that doesn’t get done if you’re so unlucky as to lack a housekeeper.

you’re “mommy taxed” when your kids get older and so do your parents, so you’re sandwiched in between two needy generations: one non-driving set that has innumerable soccer practices and what-have-you, the other set (that really ought to have its license and/or car keys taken away as time passes) that has scores of doctor’s appointments, etc etc.

it’s a wonder women survive at all. and i can’t possibly fathom what families with disabled children/aging parents do, or how single moms with special needs kids or deteriorating parents–or BOTH–cope.

after drooling over the parental leave granted in the western industrialized countries we consider our peers (sweden, 480 days!!), i have to wonder how generous leave is for taking care of ailing parents and later-life issues. what does the social safety net look like then?

so hilary or barack or whoever is running for president: maybe you should make health insurance and work-life balance–for men as well as women–the cornerstone of your campaign. it’s truly a non-partisan issue that touches everyone universally. and surely the most among us can see how the least among us are ill-equipped to bear these burdens. because so far autism and alzheimers, to name two challenging and caregiver-exhausting examples, don’t show any signs of occuring only among the poor.

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