While progress was steadily made to integrate women into traditionally male jobs for many decades, in recent years the rate has slowed considerably. There are many factors that lead men and women to end up in different occupations, but a new study has found that one big reason, particularly when it comes to women with children, is overwork. Youngjoo Cha of Indiana University has found that mothers are much more likely to leave male-dominated occupations if they work more than 50 hours a week, but that the same doesn’t hold true for childless women or men:
While overwork is an expected norm in many male-dominated occupations, women, especially mothers, are structurally less able to meet this expectation because their time is subject to family demands more than is men’s time. […]
Using longitudinal data drawn from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, I show that mothers are more likely to leave male-dominated occupations when they work 50 hours or more per week, but the same effect is not found for men or childless women. Results also show that overworking mothers are more likely to exit the labor force entirely, and this pattern is specific to male-dominated occupations. These findings demonstrate that the norm of overwork in male-dominated workplaces and the gender beliefs operating in the family combine to reinforce gender segregation of the labor market.
The numbers are striking: being a mother increases an overworked woman’s odds of leaving a male-dominated occupation by 52 percent compared to her childless peers. Meanwhile, long hours don’t have any impact on fathers or women without children.
The conclusion is that work/family conflicts drive workers out of male-dominated jobs, which tend to have a higher expectation of working long hours. This problem is landing hard on women in particular, however, because they still do the majority of care work. Today’s mothers spend about twice as much time with children as fathers do and even more time than they did in the 1960s before so many entered the workforce.
The length of the working day has been growing over recent years. Between 1979 and 2000, the study reports, the proportion of workers putting in 50 hours or more per week increased by six percentage points for both genders. The U.S. stands out in this regard: Americans put in more hours than many other developed countries. Out of 33, the U.S. is in the top 14 for the number of hours worked. Norway, the Netherlands, and Germany, all of which put in fewer hours, rank among the top countries in the world for work/life balance. The U.S. ranks eighth-to-last.
Meanwhile, the country has made little progress in enacting improved work/family policies. A new report from the Center for American Progress’s Judith Warner points to the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, as well as some state policies for paid sick leave, paid parental leave, and increased preschool access, as important but rare victories for working parents. But as the report notes, better policies can help businesses, boost the economy, and pay off for politicians who promote them.