Balancing Act

Balancing Act: Motherhood, Marriage, and Employment Among American Women

Daphne Spain
Suzanne M. Bianchi
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610445115
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Balancing Act
    Book Description:

    "A wonderful compendium of everything you always wanted to know about trends in women's roles-both in and out of the home. It is a balanced and data-rich assessment of how far women have come and how far they still have to go. "-Isabelle Sawhill, Urban Institute

    "Based primarily on the 1990 population census,Balancing Actreports on the current situation of American women and temporal and cross-national comparisons. Meticulously and clearly presented, the information in this book highlights changing behaviors, such as the growing incidence of childbearing to older women, and unmarried women in general, and a higher ratio of women's earnings to men's. The authors' thoughtful analysis of these and other factors involved in women's fin de siècle 'balancing act' make this an indispensable reference book and valuable classroom resource." -Louise A. Tilly, Michael E. Gellert Professor of History and Sociology, The New School for Social Research

    InBalancing Act, authors Daphne Spain and Suzanne Bianchi draw upon multiple census and survey sources to detail the shifting conditions under which women manage their roles as mothers, wives, and breadwinners. They chronicle the progress made in education-where female college enrollment now exceeds that of males-and the workforce, where women have entered a wider variety of occupations and are staying on the job longer, even after becoming wives and mothers. But despite progress, lower-paying service and clerical positions remain predominantly female, and although the salary gap between men and women has shrunk, women are still paid less. As women continue to establish a greater presence outside the home, many have delayed marriage and motherhood. Marked jumps in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth have given rise to significant numbers of female-headed households. Married women who work contribute more significantly than ever to the financial well-being of their families, yet evidence shows that they continue to perform most household chores.

    Balancing Actfocuses on how American women juggle the simultaneous demands of caregiving and wage earning, and compares their options to those of women in other countries. The United States is the only industrialized nation without policies to support working mothers and their families-most tellingly in the absence of subsidized childcare services. Many women are forced to work in less rewarding part-time or traditionally female jobs that allow easy exit and re-entry, and as a consequence poverty is the single greatest danger facing American women. As the authors show, the risk of poverty varies significantly by race and ethnicity, with African Americans-most of whose children live in mother-only families-the most adversely affected.

    This volume contributes to the national dialogue about family policy, welfare reform, and responsibility for children by highlighting the pivotal roles women play at the intersection of family and work.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-511-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Daphne Spain and Suzanne M. Bianchi
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    The twenty-first century promises to be an interesting one for American women. So many of the overt barriers to women’s full participation in society have been eliminated that it can be hard to remember that women have been able to vote only since 1920, legally guaranteed the same wages as men in the same jobs since the 1960s, and able to choose abortion as a way to limit their fertility since the 1970s. Yet in the 1990s, women still are not fully represented in public office, employed women still earn less than men with comparable credentials, and reproductive rights are...

  5. Chapter 1 Childbearing
    (pp. 1-24)

    As the sexual revolution caught fire during the late 19605 and early 1970s, premarital sex among young women became increasingly open. Freed from the societal constraints of the 1950s and in increasing control of their reproductive rights, women entered sexual relations with fewer inhibitions. Such sweeping changes in sexual behavior, together with other forces that will be discussed in this chapter, have contributed to a rise in out-of-wedlock births to American women. The result is that the link between motherhood and marriage has become increasingly tenuous in the late twentieth century. In recognition of the primacy of motherhood among women’s...

  6. Chapter 2 Marriage and Living Arrangements
    (pp. 25-50)

    Dramatic changes have occurred in women’s marriage patterns and living arrangements over the past few decades. The majority of American women still marry, but they are now older when they do so and spend a smaller proportion of their adult lives married. Women remain unmarried longer because they delay first marriage until their mid-to late twenties, they divorce at a much higher rate than in the past, even though the rate has declined slightly in recent years, they cohabit more frequently, as living together has become a more acceptable alternative to marriage, and, among the elderly, they are more likely...

  7. Chapter 3 Education
    (pp. 51-76)

    Shannon Faulkner became a feminist symbol of educational equality in 1995 when she enrolled in the all-male military academy The Citadel after a lengthy legal fight. When Faulkner, citing exhaustion from her prolonged battle for admission, left The Citadel only several days into her orientation, her supporters were saddened while her classmates jubilantly celebrated. Both her hard-won admission and the starkly different reactions to her departure demonstrate the remaining tensions surrounding women’s gains in education.

    Such stories make the news in the 1990s because it is now rare for a state-supported university to be single sex. It is hard for...

  8. Chapter 4 Labor Force Participation and Occupational Attainment
    (pp. 77-106)

    In a single generation, the lives of American women have undergone a remarkable transformation. Women who started families in the 1950s generally stayed home to raise their children; their daughters most often choose to work as they raise families. That such an enormous change in family lifestyle could occur in the span of a few decades testifies not only to changing attitudes about women’s participation in the workforce but also to a labor market that has been able to attract and absorb women’s labor.

    Baby boom women have attended to the demands of jobs and babies Simultaneously rather than sequentially...

  9. Chapter 5 Earnings
    (pp. 107-140)

    The cover story of the February 1996 issue ofWorking Womanmagazine, on women’s salaries, asked readers “Do You Make What You’re Worth?” and “Do You Know How to Get It?” The article inside revealed that “women typically earn 85% to 95% of what men in similar jobs do—far better than the 74-cents-on-thedollar cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the difference between women’s and men’s wages” (Harris 1996, p. 27).

    How can such discrepancies exist between government statistics (including the ones used in this book) and those produced byWorking Woman?A large part of the answer...

  10. Chapter 6 Family Well-Being: Wives and Single Mothers
    (pp. 141-166)

    Of all the trends we have reviewed in preceding chapters, two developments—the movement away from marriage and the increase in women’s labor force participation-have most affected the economic position of women by revolutionizing the financial contribution women make to families. Although a husband still earns more among most couples, the importance of a wife’s earnings has increased. In addition, a growing proportion of families rely solely on a female wage earner. Thus, more and more adult women are now acting as their family’s “breadwinner” in addition to its “caregiver.”

    In this chapter, we examine the economic activity of working...

  11. Chapter 7 Combining Employment and Family
    (pp. 167-192)

    The majority of American women have always been mothers, and now a majority of mothers are also employees. The dual responsibilities of child care and paid employment are particularly problematic for the growing number of single mothers. The economic realities of women’s lives—that they earn less than men and are more likely to live in poverty—mean that the balancing act between motherhood and employment is less often a choice than a necessity. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the ways in which women combine these competing obligations.

    A woman’s paid commitments can be part time, full...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-199)

    The theme of this book has been the balancing act women strike in negotiating their roles as mothers, wives, and breadwinners. Women have always held multiple roles, but the timing of those responsibilities has changed so that they are now simultaneous rather than sequential. Mothers of the baby boom got married, had children, and either stayed at home or entered the labor force after their children were grown. Women today mayor may not be married when they have children, and even young mothers are more likely than not to be in the labor force.

    With the exception of the baby...

  13. Appendix: Measures of Fertility
    (pp. 200-203)
  14. Chapter Notes
    (pp. 204-208)
  15. References
    (pp. 209-232)
  16. Index
    (pp. 233-240)