The IRB

This project has been classified as exempt by the University of Idaho’s Institutional Review Board (#18-179)

From the IRB application:

The feminists who helped open the doors of higher education and corporate America in the 60s and 70s might be delighted to see women attaining advanced degrees at an equal pace to men (Hewlett & Luce, 2014), and narrowing to almost zero the pay gap between them and their male coworkers (Chung et al., 2017)—that is, until they give birth. This well-documented phenomenon of mothers’ earnings markedly dropping upon the arrival of their first child has been dubbed the “motherhood penalty” (Boeckmann, Misra, & Budig, 2015; Budig & Hodges, 2010) and its antecedents and consequences are at the heart of my proposed project.

Research largely explains this wage gap by referencing the distinct ways mothers work (or spend time not working). Landivar’s (2014) examination of the 2009 American Community Survey’s large and diverse sample found mothers’ odds of exiting the labor force entirely were 2.4 times higher than non-mothers (with significant variability by occupation), and Powell & Greenhaus’ (2010) research revealed that women were more likely to quit for family-related reasons than men. Mothers that remain employed often do so in a different way than their non-mother counterparts: many seek more flexible employment, scale back their hours, or otherwise adjust their paid work to accommodate the (unpaid) practical and emotional requirements of raising children (Buehler & O’Brien, 2011). Gangl and Ziefle’s (2009) robust statistical analysis found that American mothers’ wage penalty of  9-16% was explained nearly entirely by “care-related work interruptions, employer change at reentry into the labor market, and women’s other economic responses to motherhood” (p. 358). Yu and Kuo’s (2017) analysis controlled for marital status, human capital, and job characteristics and still found that mothers of young children receive 3% less, per child, than similar non-mothers.

This project seeks to understand the experiences of the mothers “on the ground,” making decisions, adjustments and accommodations under varying levels of constraint and with varying resources at their disposal. I will explore the following underexplored questions:

  • How do women make decisions about balancing the unpaid work of childrearing with paid work?
  • Which factors constrain and which support mothers in attaining their expected arrangements?
  • How do mothers feel about the way their paid work bends to the unpaid demands of their families?

On an individual level, participants will benefit from the opportunity to tell their personal story and in doing so, improve social science’s understanding of what mothers consider and what obstacles they face as they chart their various work paths in 2018. This knowledge might then translate to a more thorough understanding of the role partner characteristics, workplace structures and public policy can play in leveling the playing field. Investigating the subtle and significant ways mothers alter their work lives to accommodate family responsibilities can help explain more holistically the issue of mothers’ differential pay. When 86% of 40-44 year-old women in the United States have given birth (Pew Research Center, 2018), the motherhood penalty is, at its core, a gender issue. If we want to reduce the financial ramifications of motherhood and thereby move the needle on gender equity, we must let the experiences of mothers themselves tell us both what is and what could be.

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