More Young Single Mothers in the Workforce

In a surprising change, the number of young single mothers in the workforce has been steadily climbing since 2015. Claire Cain Miller and Ernie Tedeschi, writing for the New York Times, report that the increase is being led by single mothers without college degrees, according to an analysis by the New York Times of Current Population Survey data. These single mothers face many barriers to employment, such as the challenge of finding affordable childcare and the lack of predictable work schedules. The authors note that many safety net programs have been shredded and work requirements have increased. The single mothers tend to be poorer and less educated than other working mothers, and no one has developed new federal policies to help them, so what factors account for this increase in their participation?

One obvious answer is that with a shredded safety net, they have to work. The authors note other factors probably at play:

  • Local state and city policy changes like paid leave, sick leave, and minimum wage increases have made it more feasible for single mothers to work and afford childcare. In fact, areas that raised the minimum wage saw the largest rise in the rate of single mothers who work.
  • The rate of participation in the workforce by young single mothers increased four percentage points more in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Five states and the District of Columbia enacted or expanded paid family leave since early 2016.
  • Eight states and thirteen cities enacted or expanded paid sick leave. Some companies have also extended paid leave to hourly workers.
  • State spending on public pre-K has significantly increased since 2015, and many cities have begun offering public pre-K. Since the District of Columbia instituted public pre-K, the rate of single mothers in the workforce has increased four percentage points more than the increase for married mothers.
  • The tight labor market may mean that some employers have made an effort to offer more predictable work schedules.
  • The gig economy, such as driving for Uber, also offers opportunities for single mothers to work with a flexible schedule.

No one factor seems to account for the increase of single mothers in the workforce but rather a patchwork of policies. Yet these single moms remain vulnerable to the whims of employers and the winds of economic change. We need federal policies that ensure living wages, paid leave, and subsidized childcare so parents can provide a healthy start for their children.


Photo by Johann Walter Bantz on Unsplash

Gender Bias at Goldman Sachs: Fired for Taking Maternity Leave

A recent Los Angeles Times story by Sabrina Willmer shines a light on the hypocrisy of many corporate family leave policies in the United States. Willmer explains that Goldman Sachs proudly promotes itself as a family-friendly company that offers four months of paid family leave as part of a widely publicized diversity initiative designed to attract talent. When women take maternity leave at Goldman, however, their careers are often damaged, and some have been fired using “business case” justifications that do not align with their performances. Goldman Sachs is not the only company to offer a family-friendly policy and then punish women and men for using it. Stories like the one reported by Willmer are common in many other organizations as well. The case discussed below is one of many being litigated in a class-action gender bias lawsuit against Goldman Sachs based on complaints of reprisals when women took maternity leave. Willmer presents the case of Tania Mirchandani, a vice president and employee of fifteen years at Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles. When she reported to her supervisor, a father of four children, that she was pregnant with her third child, he expressed skepticism that she could balance the demands of her job with such a large family. Toward the end of her maternity leave, just before returning, her boss called to tell her she was terminated “for strategic business reasons” and that men in the office were also being laid off to cut costs. In Mirchandani’s gender bias complaint she states that, in fact, she was the only person cut in the Los Angeles office and male colleagues kept their jobs even though their performances were not as good as hers. Mirchandani’s experience is not unusual at Goldman Sachs, and other women have also report reprisal and pressure after maternity leave. Specifically, after maternity leave, many women at Goldman

  • Are assigned to a different position when they return and lose the accounts or clients they developed before taking leave
  • Report being passed up for promotions
  • Are pushed onto a “mommy track” where they are not eligible for promotions
  • Are not assigned to a team and are left to develop new business on their own
  • Report that it is “standard practice” for Goldman to pressure women to take shorter maternity leaves than allowed by policy
This same story is playing out for women in many corporations. Is it any wonder that, although most companies have updated their family leave policies, the number of women taking paid maternity leave in the United States each month has remained unchanged since the 1990s, according to a 2017 study by Boston University? Willmer reminds us that family-friendly policies are empty words on paper when the cultures of organizations do not change. The same will be true for all of the new sexual harassment policies being published as a result of the #MeToo movement. Organizations’ cultures do not change without vigilance, transparency, and accountability. We have a long way to go. Is your organization truly trying to change its culture? Please share what is working.   Photo courtesy of NIAID (CC BY 2.0)      ]]>

Gender-Neutral Family-Friendly Policies: The Unintended Consequences for Women

Where are the senior women scholars? Universities have been concerned about the underrepresentation of women at senior tenured levels for more than twenty years, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. I wrote about several studies seeking to explain this dearth of senior women scholars in a previous article. In response to the underrepresentation of women, many of these institutions implemented gender-neutral family-friendly policies in the 1990s. Justin Wolfers, an economist writing for the New York Times, reports new research on the careers of economists in the United States that shows surprising, unintended consequences of these policies for female economists. Wolfers reports that in fact, some gender-neutral policies have advanced the careers of male economists at the expense of women’s careers, which is probably also true in other disciplines. The specific gender-neutral policy under investigation here is the tenure extension policy, which grants one extra year to the seven-year tenure process to both women and men for each child. The intention of this policy is to create some family-friendly flexibility in the early years of an academic career, when the pressure to achieve tenure (publish or perish) in order to keep an academic job collides with the years when young women and men are ready to start families. Wolfers reports that new research by three economists—Heather Antecol, Kelly Bedard, and Jenna Stearns—shows a significant differential impact of the tenure extension policy on the careers of women and men. These researchers compiled data on all untenured economists hired over the past twenty years at fifty leading economics departments. They then compared promotion rates at institutions with tenure extension policies to those without them. This is what they found:

  • Tenure extension policies resulted in a 19-point rise in the probability that a male economist would earn tenure at his first job.
  • In contrast, women’s chances of gaining tenure at their first jobs fell by 22 percent.
  • Before the implementation of tenure extension, a little less than 30 percent of both women and men at these same institutions gained tenure at their first jobs. Consequently, the new policy significantly decreased the number of women receiving tenure.
One of the main flaws in the logic behind the gender-neutral tenure extension policy is that women and men experience the same distractions from their writing and research after the birth of a child. Wolfers cites Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s business school, as saying, “Giving birth is not a gender-neutral event.” Wolfers goes on to observe that “women receive parental benefits only after bearing the burden of pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and often, a larger share of parenting responsibilities. Yet fathers usually receive the same benefits without bearing anything close to the same burden.” In fact, the study authors found that men who took tenure extension used the extra year to publish their research, resulting in higher tenure rates. No parallel rise in publication rates was seen for female economists. One of the study authors, J. Stearns, cautions that not all gender-neutral family policies are harmful. She notes that standard parental leave policies for both parents have reduced the stigma for women. Let’s note that it took female economists to uncover the harmful impact of this tenure extension policy on women—and there are not many female economists. What other unintended consequences could be negatively accruing for women from well-intentioned family-focused policies? What else might we be discovering if we had more female economists asking these questions? Do you have experiences or thoughts about the possible unfair impact of employment policies where you work? Let me know.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of anekarinebraga.]]>