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A recent scholarly article in the Journal of Marriage and Family by Melissa Milkie, Kei Nomaguchi, and Kathleen Denny (first covered in the Washington Post) has sparked a plethora of commentary in the news media, including several critiques by Justin Wolfers of The Upshot, and a convincing response by the authors in the Washington Post. Using high-quality time use data from a national panel study, Milkie, Nomaguchi, and Denny found that the overall amount of time mothers spend with either adolescents or younger children does not matter for their children’s behaviors, emotions, or academics. What do sociologists know about the impact of parenting time on children’s wellbeing?

First, the kind of parenting time matters. Time mothers spend engaging with children makes more of a difference than the time mothers are available to or are supervising their children. So being long on love but short on time isn’t a bad thing. Engaged maternal time is related to fewer delinquent behaviors among adolescents, and engaged time with both parents was related to better outcomes for adolescents. Other studies show too much “unstructured” parental time, such as watching TV together, may actually be worse for some children under age 6, and that the quality of parent-child relationships factors in. Family dinners contribute to fewer depressive symptoms and less delinquency among adolescents, but only when parent-child relationships are strong.
Why did this finding spark such a media response? In part, it’s because society believes ideal mothering means spending lots of time with children. Many parents strive to attain this ideal, but many working mothers who cannot attain it must redefine their definition of a “good mother” to fit with work responsibilities. Still, working mothers today spend more time with their children than employed mothers in the past.



For more on the original article and the critiques, see Sociological Images.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service. The outcome will affect many American women’s ability to financially support their families and even have children.

Pregnancy discrimination, while widely illegal, happens when some employers illegally terminate their female workers. They are not explicitly fired for being pregnant, but instead branded “bad workers” by managers. The organizations then use run-of-the-mill meritocratic policies to fire the women.

Reginald A. Byron and Vincent J. Roscigno. 2014. “Relational Power, Legitimation, and Pregnancy Discrimination,” Gender & Society 28(3):435–62.

Pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time for women; it holds health, legal, and employment risks. A systematic examination of arrests of and forced interventions in the lives of pregnant women in the U.S. shows a variety of concerns about their health, dignity, and autonomy.

Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin. 2013. “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973–2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

A variety of laws and their sometimes-selective enforcement affect women’s ability to be healthy and valued members of society.

Jeanne Flavin. 2009. Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America. New York: NYU Press.

Beyond pregnancy discrimination, mothers are paid less than childless women. A portion of this motherhood wage penalty is due to discrimination.

Stephen Benard and Shelley J. Correll. 2010. “Normative Discrimination and the Motherhood Penalty,” Gender & Society 24(5):616–46.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been harshly criticized for his remarks that women should trust in the system to give them the right raises as they go along, rather than asking for raises they feel they deserve.  While he later “clarified” his statement on Twitter saying that he meant to say that the tech industry must close the gender pay gap so asking for a raise is not needed, research shows why sociologists are skeptical of his arguments.

The gender pay gap is well documented, and it exists even when controlling for a variety of factors related to wages, such as occupation, work hours, and educational attainment.
Occupations with lots of female employees also tend to be paid less favorably than those requiring similar skills but largely done by men.
Mothers tend to be particularly disadvantaged in terms of salary compared to childless women or to men.
Women can also face penalties for asking for a raise, even if they deserve it, if they don’t frame their request in a way that still conforms to gender norms.

For more on women in the workforce, check out these previous TROT posts and briefs from SSN.

With the recent nomination of Janet Yellen as chairman of the Federal Reserve, a variety of news coverage has focused on the lack of women at high levels in finance or even with the necessary credentials – a PhD in economics. Why aren’t there more women in such positions? Sociologists find evidence for several barriers women encounter along the way.

Fewer women tend to choose highly competitive, male-dominated professions such as economics, finance, or engineering
When they do join these fields, women often encounter discrimination at all levels of career progression
Some women leave these professions after they have children because they lack the support to meet both work and family demands.