How Government Policy Affects Women’s Ability to Juggle Work-Family Life

Caitlyn Collins, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, has authored a new study that documents how governmental policy in various countries affects women’s ability to manage work and family life. The study was presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago.

Collins interviewed a large group of working mothers in the United States, Germany, Italy, and Sweden to understand their experiences balancing motherhood and employment. She found that outside of Sweden, where most working mothers felt supported as both mothers and employees, the majority of working mothers experienced uncertainty and tension between being a mother and a paid worker. Swedish working mothers felt supported by gender equality and labor market policies that grant the same rights and obligations to men and women.

“Work-family policies reflect and reinforce ideologies about gender: what men and women ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do,” said Collins. “Through policies, countries say something about their citizens and shape the opportunities available to them. Our understanding of whose job it is to raise and support a family really depends on the cultural and political context. Paid work is valued in contemporary societies, and the unpaid work of maintaining a home is often culturally invisible and undervalued.”

Collins concludes that “the conversation is no longer about whether women should work, because today it is often economically necessary for families to have two incomes to stay afloat. The conversation today is about the conditions in which families are best able to manage earning an income while caring for their members that does not place this burden unduly on women’s shoulders.”

Collins is an editorial assistant for the Journal of Marriage and Family. She has a bachelor’s degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She then taught English in Spain, Honduras, and India before starting graduate school at the University of Texas in 2010.

Filed Under: Research/StudyWomen's Studies


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