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Working Parents -- Who Puts Family First When A Child Gets Sick?

August 15, 2007
University of Cincinnati
A new study examines whether mothers or fathers are most likely to miss work in a child emergency.

New research out of the University of Cincinnati finds that the more times are changing, the more the traditional gender roles between husbands and wives remain the same. Research conducted by UC Sociology Professor David Maume finds that in the case of urgent child care, women are more likely to leave their jobs to attend to their children. Maume will present his paper – “Gender Differences in Providing Urgent Child Care Among Dual-Earner Parents” – on Monday, Aug. 13, at the 102nd annual meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA) in New York City.

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Maume says conventional wisdom suggests that over the generations, men are getting more involved in family life as women get more involved in the workforce. But, he says this study suggests that men’s commitment to work remains a priority over family duties.

Maume analyzed data from the 1997 and 2002 editions of The National Study of the Changing Workforce. Designed by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in New York, the random telephone surveys were meant to provide a snapshot of the labor force. Men and women in dual-income families (a sample of 813 working women and 599 working men) were asked which parent was more likely to take off from work if a parent needed to take care of a child due to illness, failed child-care arrangements, an appointment, school-closing or other urgent child-care events.

Maume says his analysis of the data finds a large gender disparity in providing urgent child care, with 77.7 percent of women taking time off from work and 26.5 percent of men reporting that they attend to child-care needs (because the sample involved workers and not couples, the figures don’t add up to 100 percent). The study inserted control factors for the number of dependent children, having a preschool child, education-level, work hours reported, employment as a professional or manager, annual income and spouse’s annual income, as well as the years they worked with their employer and their expected chances of moving up in the organization.

“Looking first at the effects of the controls, then the job-related factors and then the demographic and familial predictors, the pattern of results increasingly suggests that urgent child care is viewed as a parenting problem and that families remain persistently traditional in solving this problem,” Maume states in the paper. He adds that the gender differences in providing emergency child care exist regardless of the ideology of traditional families versus contemporary families that support equally sharing the housework, child-care and other family/work issues. The findings were also similar when comparing subsets of only full-time workers. “There has been almost no change in men’s priorities. Men put work first, and women weave or adapt their work around the family, including both their children’s and husband’s work schedules,” Maume says.

However, the study did find that men’s likelihood of being the sole provider of urgent child care significantly increases with the years they’ve worked with their employer and if they work flextime schedules. “These findings suggest that men are more likely to provide urgent child care after acquiring some power in their employment relationships, either by their record of service or by acquiring favorable job benefits,” writes Maume.

As the women reported higher pay, women became less likely to take sole responsibility for urgent child care. Compared with men, the study found that women had a higher probability of missing work in a child care emergency as family size increased and/or husbands worked longer hours.

The study suggests more research into how dual-working couples negotiate their responsibilities as parents and providers. Maume also suggests that since more men are reporting they’re equally sharing family responsibilities compared with those a generation ago, that future research should examine how men are actually adjusting their work/family priorities.

The study was supported by funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, an agency within the National Institutes of Health.

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cincinnati. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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University of Cincinnati. "Working Parents -- Who Puts Family First When A Child Gets Sick?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 August 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070813162452.htm>.
University of Cincinnati. (2007, August 15). Working Parents -- Who Puts Family First When A Child Gets Sick?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070813162452.htm
University of Cincinnati. "Working Parents -- Who Puts Family First When A Child Gets Sick?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070813162452.htm (accessed March 31, 2015).

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