Attitudes toward the Employment of Mothers and Fathers
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University of Pennsylvania
Sample size: 2542
Field period: 4/13/2011-2/21/2012
This study is designed to probe attitudes toward the employment of mothers and fathers of young children. The goal is to probe more deeply than is possible with the General Social Survey (GSS) gender-role attitude questions. The GSS measures a) do not consider a) variation in the work and family circumstances of mothers in the labor force; b) do not specifically examine attitudes toward the employment of single mothers; and c) do not specifically examine attitudes toward the employment of fathers. The study examines whether the circumstances surrounding work, specifically the job and family context, shape opinions regarding the employment of parents of young children. In a sense, the question is whether such attitudes remain ideological, that is, consistent without regard to particular circumstances, or whether gender role ideology is giving way to a more nuanced consideration of individual circumstances. We also explore alternative wording of GSS questions.
We examine whether job and family circumstances affect respondents' attitudes toward the employment of parents of young children. Specifically, we explore whether attitudes toward employment are more favorable when the employed parent is satisfied with his or her job (compared with being not satisfied). We also explored whether attitudes toward employment are more favorable when the employed parent is satisfied with his or her child care arrangements. And we explore whether respondents attitude are more favorable if the employee's family depends on their income. We also examine whether these patterns vary across married mothers, single mothers and married fathers.
We provide respondents with vignettes designed that alter three conditions: the employed parent is satisfied (not satisfied) with his or her job; the employed parent is satisfied (not satisfied) with his or her income; and the employed parent's family depends on (does not depend on) his or her income. We cross each of these conditions so that a total of eight combinations are tested. These vignettes specified married mothers of pre-school children, single mothers and married fathers.
Respondents were given a set of questions to allow them to evaluate these vignettes.
Specifically, the questions following each vignette included: (1) All things considered, is it better for her if she stays at her job, cuts back to part time, or stays home?; (2) All things considered, is it better for the child if she stays at her job, cuts back to part time, or stays home?; (3) All things considered, is it better for the marriage if she stays at her job, cuts back to part time, or stays home?; and (4) All things considered, what do you think she should do –– should she stay at her job, cut back to part time, or stay home
Summary of Results
Drawing on findings from an original national survey experiment, we unpack Americans' views on the employment of mothers and fathers with young children. We designed this study to provide a fuller account of contemporary attitudes than is available from the broad questions typically asked about the gender division of labor, such as those currently posed in the General Social Survey. When respondents are given vignettes that vary the circumstances in which married mothers, single mothers, and married fathers make decisions about paid work and caregiving, the public's views swing from strong support to deep skepticism about a parent's work participation depending on the parent's job conditions and family circumstances. When a mother, whether married or single, is satisfied with her job and her family depends on her income, respondents overwhelmingly support the option to work. In contrast, when a father is dissatisfied with his job and the family does not depend on his income, respondents generally support the option to stay home. These findings provide insight regarding the "gender stall" thesis by showing that Americans' views on mothers' employment and fathers' caregiving involvement are not monolithic, but rather dependent on the circumstances they believe parents are facing. This more nuanced view points to a general cultural shift that emphasizes the importance of social context in the allocation of paid work and caregiving for both mothers and fathers.
Jacobs, Jerry A. and Kathleen Gerson. Forthcoming. Unpacking Americans' Views of the Employment of Mothers and Fathers Using National Vignette Survey Data. Gender & Society.