Working Mothers: the Effects on Society and Family

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  • Topic: Workforce, Labor force, Employment
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  • Published : April 28, 2011
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Working Mothers: The Effects on Society and Family
Thankfully, the ‘Ward Cleaver’ image of the family is on its way out yet, according to sociologists, the sexual inequality associated with assigning men the role of the economic provider and women as the child rearer and homemaker, is still very much in existence. These social stereotypes remain in spite of the fact that, within the last few decades, there has been a sharp increase in the number of mothers deciding to venture outside the home and into paid employment. Statistics show that the level of mothers in paid employment has risen from one in eight in the 1950′s to a present day estimate of over fifty percent and, according to the Department of Labor, in 2001 women were found to compose forty-eight percent of the entire labor force furthermore it is forecasted that in 2008 that percentage will equal or exceed 50 percent. The majority of mothers are in employment out of necessity, either because of single parenthood, divorce, widowhood or other factors, which place them in the role of sole, or primary, provider for the family. However, modern society still tends to define men as the ‘breadwinner’ whose career is of greater importance than that of women, who still appear to be generally labeled as the homemaker. This is most apparent in the household division of labor, with many working mothers commonly faced with an unequal workload of household tasks in addition to their paid employment, even in cases where the husband is unemployed or working in part-time employment. A study by Wheelock examined the household division of labor in families where the woman was in paid employment and the man was unemployed. This was found to be a fairly unusual situation because in many cases where the husband becomes unemployed it appears that the wife is likely to do the same, in all likelihood as a result of the disincentive effect of the social security system. However, in the thirty families that were studied it was found that the primary responsibility for household tasks remained with the woman, although there was limited involvement by the partner. This inequality is further reinforced by the studies of Bielby and Bielby, which suggests that even in households where both partners are in paid employment, it is men who retain the majority of power in household decisions. Bielby and Bielby illustrate these findings by raising the point that, if the man is offered a promotion that involves the family having to relocate then, in most cases, the wife will comply, regardless of the effects on her own career. It was noted that as more women enter the work force and for a distinctive career choice this practice will no longer be the case. Socialization and social values play a large part in the maintenance of this inequality, as men, who do engage in household tasks, or childcare, are still commonly viewed as ‘helping out’ or ‘giving his wife a hand’, rather than fulfilling an expected social role. A major concern, which is often raised in modern society, in response to the increasing number of working mothers, is the possible effects on the children of a loss of supervision, maternal love and social stimulation. Research, however, suggests that these fears have no basis in fact, and that there is very little difference in the intellectual and emotional development between the children of working mothers and those whose mothers stay at home. Many sociologists, and psychologist, have turned the argument around, suggesting that it is the fathers’ situation that is the crucial issue. It is claimed that a mother who is works and finds personal satisfaction in her employment is more likely to perform better than those who are either not working but would like to, or those who are employed but are either unsatisfied with their job or are beset by guilt or pressure. Studies such as those of McEwan suggest that it is the children of mothers who fall into the latter category who are more likely...
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