Designing mom-size jobs

The US Census Bureau reported recently that for the first time, in a majority of American families, both parents work. Does this mean women are moving ever-closer to equality?

It does not. The data on workforce participation mask the rising "family gap" between the wages of mothers and other adults. The negative impact on women's income of having children increased in the 1980s; it's increasing still in many income groups.

In our economy of mothers and others, nonmothers - of both sexes - are doing fine. But mothers remain a pocket of poverty. Eighty percent of the poor in this country are mothers and their children.

To break this cycle, we need to change the ways we organize work. In good jobs today, we define the ideal worker as someone who works full-time and overtime "as needed" for 40 years straight.

This ideal is designed around men. Women need time off for childbirth; and in the US, they still do three-fourths of the child care.

Defining our work ideals around men excludes most mothers. New data show that 2 out of 3 work under 40 hours a week during key years of career advancement. Even fewer - less than 10 percent - work substantial overtime. Jobs that require large amounts of overtime, from auto worker to corporate lawyer, exclude mothers almost completely.

Workforce participation may be up, but many mothers are in dead-end jobs, and very few reach the top.

We need to discuss the economic arrangements that leave more than 95 percent of upper-level management, and most good blue-collar jobs, in the hands of men.

Joan Williams, author of 'Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What To Do About It' (Oxford University Press), is a law professor and director of the Program on Gender, Work & Family at American University.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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