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Families That Work

Families That Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment

Janet C. Gornick
Marcia K. Meyers
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 404
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  • Book Info
    Families That Work
    Book Description:

    Parents around the world grapple with the common challenge of balancing work and child care. Despite common problems, the industrialized nations have developed dramatically different social and labor market policies—policies that vary widely in the level of support they provide for parents and the extent to which they encourage an equal division of labor between parents as they balance work and care. In Families That Work, Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers take a close look at the work-family policies in the United States and abroad and call for a new and expanded role for the U.S. government in order to bring this country up to the standards taken for granted in many other Western nations. In many countries in Europe and in Canada, family leave policies grant parents paid time off to care for their young children, and labor market regulations go a long way toward ensuring that work does not overwhelm family obligations. In addition, early childhood education and care programs guarantee access to high-quality care for their children. In most of these countries, policies encourage gender equality by strengthening mothers’ ties to employment and encouraging fathers to spend more time caregiving at home. In sharp contrast, Gornick and Meyers show how in the United States—an economy with high labor force participation among both fathers and mothers—parents are left to craft private solutions to the society-wide dilemma of “who will care for the children?” Parents—overwhelmingly mothers—must loosen their ties to the workplace to care for their children; workers are forced to negotiate with their employers, often unsuccessfully, for family leave and reduced work schedules; and parents must purchase care of dubious quality, at high prices, from consumer markets. By leaving child care solutions up to hard-pressed working parents, these private solutions exact a high price in terms of gender inequality in the workplace and at home, family stress and economic insecurity, and—not least—child well-being. Gornick and Meyers show that it is possible–based on the experiences of other countries—to enhance child well-being and to increase gender equality by promoting more extensive and egalitarian family leave, work-time, and child care policies. Families That Work demonstrates convincingly that the United States has much to learn from policies in Europe and in Canada, and that the often-repeated claim that the United States is simply “too different” to draw lessons from other countries is based largely on misperceptions about policies in other countries and about the possibility of policy expansion in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-251-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Conflicts Between Earning and Caring
    (pp. 1-23)

    Imagine a world in which mothers could take a few months away from their jobs following the birth or adoption of a child, without sacrificing either job security or their paychecks. Imagine a world in which both mothers and fathers could spend substantial time at home during their child’s first year, while receiving nearly all of their wages. Imagine a world in which mothers and fathers could choose to work part-time until their children are in primary school without changing employers or losing their health benefits. Imagine a world in which the normal workweek was thirty-seven or even thirty-five hours,...

  6. Chapter 2 The Changing American Family and the Problem of Private Solutions
    (pp. 24-57)

    American families are struggling. In the United States, fragmented contemporary discourses about the family cast these struggles alternately as the failure of parents to provide adequately for their children, as the difficulties women encounter in finding a balance between the demands of the workplace and the home, or as the failure of society to achieve the ideal of gender equality envisioned by many feminists. Each of these fragments captures an important dimension of the struggle. Yet they fail to suggest satisfactory solutions because they fail to situate families’ dilemmas in a broader context.

    The ongoing struggle of many families to...

  7. Chapter 3 The United States in Cross-National Perspective: Are Parents and Children Doing Better Elsewhere?
    (pp. 58-83)

    American families are not alone in the demands they encounter on their time and energy. In all industrialized and industrializing countries, working families are at the epicenter of tensions arising from changing gender norms, social supports, and labor market opportunities. However, cross-national comparisons suggest that American families face heavier demands and receive less external support than do families in other equally rich industrialized countries. The characteristically American approach of expecting private forces to solve social problems has created especially pressing burdens in this country.

    On many indicators of family and child well-being, the problems confronting American families are more acute...

  8. Chapter 4 Reconciling the Conflicts: Toward a Dual-Earner—Dual-Carer Society
    (pp. 84-111)

    In recent decades, feminist social theorists—mostly in Europe—have engaged in a critical reexamination of the concept of social citizenship. Feminist scholars argue that a crucial shortcoming in twentieth-century citizenship theory, beginning with the influential work of the British sociologist T. H. Marshall, has been the failure to recognize the consequences of women’s disproportionate assumption of unpaid care work. One of their central insights is that women’s socially constructed responsibilities in the private sphere bar their full participation as citizens in the public sphere.

    A crucial schism has emerged out of this scholarship. Some feminists argue that women’s attainment...

  9. Chapter 5 Ensuring Time to Care During the Early Years: Family Leave Policy
    (pp. 112-146)

    The model of an earner-carer society assumes that both mothers and fathers will have time for caregiving, intensively in the early weeks and months of their children’s lives, and as needed during later childhood.¹ Public family leave policies are among the most important tools that many other countries use to ensure parents time for caregiving work.

    Family leave policy refers to a package of benefits: maternity leave (granted to mothers for a limited period around the time of childbirth),² paternity leave (granted to fathers for a limited period around the time of childbirth), parental leave (granted to mothers and fathers...

  10. Chapter 6 Strengthening Reduced-Hour Work: Regulation of Working Time
    (pp. 147-184)

    In the partially transformed world in which most parents now live and work, time is scarce as they balance long hours in the workplace with the demands of caregiving at home. A central assumption of the earner-carer model is that parents—mothers and especially fathers—will have the option to reduce their hours of paid work, especially before their children reach school age and possibly throughout their children’s lives. However, for many American workers, reductions in the workweek are impossible or entail great sacrifices in earnings, benefits, and career opportunities.

    Working-time policies can help give parents time for caregiving.¹ Setting...

  11. Chapter 7 Providing Public Care: Child Care, Preschool, and Public Schooling
    (pp. 185-235)

    Substitute child care is an essential form of support for parents combining earning and caring roles; parents cannot commit to work outside the home without alternatives for the care of their children. Child care is an equally important factor influencing levels of gender equality in the labor market and in the home. Because it is mothers who usually reduce working time if they cannot find acceptable and affordable alternatives to full-time parental care, the availability and cost of child care are powerful predictors of women’s labor market attachments. The financing of child care has other implications for the wages and...

  12. Chapter 8 Does Policy Matter? Linking Policies to Outcomes
    (pp. 236-267)

    In the preceding chapters, we have described models for government policies that could help to reduce the time squeeze on employed parents, promote the well-being of children, and achieve greater gender equality in the labor market and the home. Our rationale has been largely conceptual: families in the United States are faring much worse, relative to these goals, than their counterparts in other countries in which policies are logically consistent with, and in some cases explicitly targeted on, their achievement. The policy lessons in the preceding chapters are based on more than logic, however. Substantial empirical research links many of...

  13. Chapter 9 Developing Earner-Carer Policies in the United States
    (pp. 268-304)

    Our survey of policy in other industrialized countries suggests that government policies that support parents in their earning and caring roles are institutionally and economically feasible. The empirical literature is encouraging regarding the potential of these policies to grant parents time for caregiving, to promote gender equality, and to enhance child well-being. Cross-national comparisons also reveal the exceptionalism of the United States, however, particularly in the paucity of contemporary policy provisions. This raises questions about whether and how we might develop more-supportive family leave, working-time, child care, and school scheduling policies in this country.

    The United States is exceptional, in...

  14. Appendix A Description of Cross-National Data Sets Used
    (pp. 305-308)
  15. Appendix B Summary of Selected European Union Directives
    (pp. 309-314)
  16. Appendix C Construction of Policy Indexes
    (pp. 315-320)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 321-350)
  18. References
    (pp. 351-380)
  19. Index
    (pp. 381-392)