Intersectional inequalities in work and family life courses by gender and race

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This paper looks at the different privileges and constraints that men and women face as they juggle the demands of jobs and careers with having a family.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), the researchers examine the gender and race inequalities facing people in the United States and show that, in line with other research, white men tend to enjoy the “privilege” of combining whatever sort of job they like with whatever family life they choose, whilst white women and black men and women face constraints.

The research finds that white women and black men who are in top jobs are more likely to have fewer children and have them later. It indicates the work-family patterns of black men tend to polarise into high or low occupational prestige careers, underlining the erosion of the black middle class. It also demonstrates a lack of common career path for black men in secure middle class jobs, irrespective of their family lives.

There were very few black women in top jobs, and medium prestige work was mainly accessible for black women if they abstained from having family responsibilities by not having a partner and delaying or foregoing motherhood. There was a sizeable group of black women who were relatively late single mothers, holding stable medium prestige jobs.

The researchers conclude that more needs to be done to disentangle what is at play, particularly how discrimination, gendered norms and expectations, and the availability of childcare create a situation where certain individuals and groups are disadvantaged in combining a career and having a family.

They recommend a closer look at which policies can deliver equal access to different work-family life courses for all.