The Dependent Care Dilemma
Many employed adults must also provide care for dependent children or parents. As we will show, the issues they face are complex.
Employed Caregivers. Many mothers have no option but to return to work after the birth of a child. In fact, 64% of American women with children under the age of six years are in the workforce (U. S. Department of Labor, 2006). The number of mothers in the workforce with children of any age is even higher. As you can see in the graph in Figure 12.3, the overall number of women in the workforce with children under age 18 has increased dramatically since the mid-1970s (U. S. Department of Labor, 2006).
Work, Leisure, and Retirement 471
% 50 I 40 ■S 30
I 20 110 0
1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005
Figure 12.3 Percentage of mothers in the workforce with own children under age 18.
Source: U. S. Department of Labor. (2006). Current population survey. Washington, D. C.: U. S. Department of Labor.
Some women, though, grapple with the decision of whether they want to return to work. Surveys of mothers with preschool children reveal that the motivation for returning to work tends to be related to how attached mothers are to their work. For example, in one survey of Australian mothers, those with high work attachment were more likely to cite intrinsic personal achievement reasons for returning. Those with low work attachment cited pressing financial needs. Those with moderate work attachment were divided between intrinsic and financial reasons (Cotton, Anthill, & Cunningham, 1989). Those who can afford to give up careers and stay home also must deal with changes in identity (Milford, 1997). Giving up a career means that those aspects of one’s identity that came from work must be redefined to accommodate being a stay-at-home mother. Finally, women in male-dominated occupations make more family trade-offs to maintain their occupational identity (Mennino & Brayfield, 2002).
As discussed in Chapter 11, an increasing and often overlooked group of employed caregivers consists of those caring for a parent or partner and children. Of women in this situation, 60% work at least 35 hours per week (Jenkins, 1997). Consequently, these women show a higher level of inter-role conflict, stress, and depression (Hammer & Neal, 2008; Norton et al., 2002; Stephens, Franks, & Atienza, 1997; Stephens et al., 2001). Inter-role conflict
results in a clash between competing sets of roles, in this case between work and family responsibilities.
Whether care is needed for one’s children or parent, key factors in selecting an appropriate care site are quality of care, price, and hours of availability (Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, 1998; Vandell, Pierce, & Stright, 1997). Depending on one’s economic situation, it may not be possible to find affordable and quality care that is available when needed. In such cases, there may be no option but to drop out of the workforce or enlist the help of friends and family.
Dependent Care and Effects on Workers. Workers who care for dependents face tough choices. Especially when both partners are employed, dependent care is the central organizing aspect of the couple’s lives (Hertz, 1997).
Being responsible for dependent care has significant negative effects, especially for women. For example, when they are responsible for caring for an older parent, women report missing more meetings and being absent from work more often (Gignac, Kelloway, & Gottlieb, 1996; Hammer & Neal, 2008). Such women also report higher levels of stress (Jenkins, 1997). Likewise, parents often experience poor quality of life, and report higher stress and trouble coping with it (Galinsky, Bond, & Friedman, 1996; Scharlach, 2001).
How can these negative effects be lessened? For example, when women’s partners provide good support and women have average or high control over their jobs, employed mothers are significantly less distressed than are employed women who are not mothers (Roxburgh, 1997). When support and job controls are lacking, though, employed mothers are significantly more distressed than employed non-mothers. Clearly, having partner support and being in a job that allows one to have control over such things as one’s schedule are key. What employers provide is also important, as we will show next.
Dependent Care and Employer Response. Employed parents with small children are confronted with the difficult act of leaving their children in the care of others. In response to pressure from parents, most
industrialized countries (but not the United States) provide government-supported child-care centers for employees as one way to help ease this burden. Does providing a center make a difference in terms of an employee’s feelings about work, absenteeism, or productivity?
The answer is that it’s not as simple as opening a center like the one in the photograph. Just making a child-care center available to employees does not necessarily reduce parents’ work-family conflict or their absenteeism (Goff, Mount, & Jamison, 1990; Schmidt & Duenas, 2002). A “family-friendly” company must also pay attention to attitudes of their employees, introduce flexible working conditions, and make sure the company provides broad-based support. The key is how the supervisor acts. Irrespective of where the child-care center is located, when supervisors are sympathetic and supportive regarding family issues and child care, parents report less work-family conflict and have lower absenteeism. Interestingly, university employees seem to be more negative toward their workplace’s work-family climate than are corporate employees (Anderson et al., 2002).
Research on specific working conditions and benefits that help caregivers perform optimally on the job points to several consistent conclusions. To the extent that employers provide better job security, autonomy, lower productivity demands, supervisor support, and flexible schedules, caregivers fare
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Child care has witnessed a considerable increase with more women entering careers and jobs.
better (Aryee & Luk, 1996; Frone & Yardley, 1996; Galinsky et al., 1996; Schmidt & Duenas, 2002).
It will be interesting to watch how these issues, especially flexible schedules, play out in the United States over the next several years. With the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, for the first time people will be able to take unpaid time off to care for their dependents, having the right to return to their jobs. Experience from other countries indicates that parental leave has different effects on each parent. For example, a large-scale study in Sweden showed that fathers who took parental leave were more likely to continue their involvement in child care and to reduce their work involvement. Regardless of fathers’ participation, mothers still retained primary responsibility for child care and stayed less involved in and received fewer rewards in the labor market (Haas, 1990; Schwartz, 1992).