To Work or Not To Work, A Sociological View of a M Essays and Papers

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To Work or Not To Work, A Sociological View of a Mothers Dilemma

To Work or Not To Work
The Dilemma of the Working Mother

The discipline of Sociology has long been interested in the study of human behavior. This
interest grows from the sociological conception of relationships which distinguish the
individual and differentiate him from other members of society. Through the ages, man has
been influenced by social interaction and cultural surroundings. Sociologists have also
recognized that a social institution consists of a concept and a structure, and that this
structure is a framework made up of permanent relationships. The family is a social
institution consisting of a certain structure. In earlier times, society defined
"families" as "close-knit, internally organized cooperative units intermediate between the
individual and the total society of which he is a part" (Bossard. P.31). The family
consisted of a larger unit which along with the parent and children it included the
grandparent, aunts and uncles. In those days, life revolved around land cultivation where
the large families were essential. Today, it has a very different definition with the
Industrialization of society and the influences society imposes on the family structure.
Today's family has dramatically changed from years ago many are marrying later in life due
to career choices. The cultivation of land has been taken over by the pursuit of careers
and the married couple breaking away from the extended family becoming an individual unit.
The pursuit of careers is also causing couples to consider putting off having children
until later or not having children at all. Families now are totally dependent on
industries for subsistence. In earlier times, the man was the provider for the family, he
spent long hours working the land and the woman stayed at home tending to the home and
children. As times have become more industrialized, society has become more materialistic.
This acquisition of goods has forced the family to seek work outside the home, beginning
with the man spending long hours at the office to make enough money to support the family.
The woman was also changing but from within the home. All the changes in society and the
portrayal of what a "happy family" should be by the media have caused a tremendous strain
on the family unit. These strains have taken their toll and have caused significant
changes to what is considered the "Traditional Family."

One area that has shown significant change was found being reported by the U.S. Census
Bureau. In the past 30 years, one of the most dynamic social changes in the history of the
United States has taken place in the area of employment, specifically of women with
children. Although, to some degree there have always been employed mothers, today a
greater proportion of mothers are employed than ever before. Statistics show that in 1976,
48% of the population of women categorized as "married women with children" were employed
and it increased to 62% in 1986 just 10 years later. What are the causes for this and how
does it affect the children?

Why They Went To Work?
Sociologist, Emile Durkheim would answer this question with his theory on "Division of
Labor". Just 100 years ago, the structure of the family was quite different than what we
see today. In the early 1900, predominantly agricultural, the father was the sole
breadwinner and the mother worked in the home and tended to the children. The division of
labor was based on gender and it was centered on the home, all members having a particular
job to do which was an important part of the family's survival. This provided a sense of
accomplishment at the end of the day. Sociologist, Karl Marx shared a similar view in his
theory of an individual reaching his or her "Species Being" which is an individual's
shared commonality with others, finding his or her place in society. Why the change? The
Industrial Revolution separated the workplace from the home and altered the division of
labor between men and women. It destroyed the household economy by removing the production
in the home and taking out of the women's hands. Karl Marx's theory of "Human Nature &
Alienation" applies here in that we are in conflict with the way we are forced to work in
a capitalist society. Capitalism implements its objectives upon us and they become our
own. We become entrapped in its processes of productions. Currently, many studies that
have attempted to keep up with the changes have reported very interesting findings. There
are many reasons from divorce to sheer boredom, but many of these reasons have shown
different affects that would cause the study to get to broad and complicated to report the
findings properly. The studies that have been chosen are only those where the women could
afford to stay home and have chosen not to do so. One particular study was very specific
in recording the reasons behind why mothers were seeking employment. This study was a
longitudinal study conducted in 1975-1976 and then followed up in 1985-86. This study
reported that the main reasons for women returning to work could be put into two
categories. These categories were "self reasons" and "family reasons." (Hood p.31) Under
the category of "self" the women expressed their dislike of housework, depression and
boredom while under "family" the reasons were money for the family, husband's health and
husband's job insecurity. (Hood p. 32)

What About The Children?
Is it best for the child to have mom at home? Currently, most mothers in the United States
are employed and this seems to be true for mothers of newborns to school aged children
(U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997). Any review of the research on the effects of maternal
employment in the United States recognizes that the social impact has been so rapid and
its effect are on such a broad scale that it can be seen as a total social change. The
sudden demands of both employment and home life influence the parenting strategies which,
in turn, have significance for child outcomes. But comparing the children of employed
mothers and those of non-employed mothers is not the only variable that needs to be
measured, the father's role must first be looked at for its changes and how receptive he
is to the changes. These factors are also a part of the parenting strategies. The father's
role has been very slow to change, but there seems to be some evidence that the longer
hours he puts in at the office the less time he has or is willing to contribute to
parenting. (Frankel p.92) Another notable influence is education. A number of studies have
shown that a father's education level has a positive relationship towards parenting and
helping more at home. (Frankel p. 93) but there have not been any conclusive finding
regarding the mother's education and the father's parenting and willingness to help.

Society and social classes also plays a role, one good example of society's influence of
this would be when the job market is strong and there are more work hours, the father will
accept the additional work hours while the mother will not. (Frankel p. 94).

With regard to social classes you'll see that in the lower classes, the full time mother
may be under more stress and in some cases depressed, where the opportunity of employment
may reduce or eliminate the stress making the mother a more effective parent. The mother's
wages have a great effect on the family's standard of living in the lower class than in
the middle class. (Hoffman, 1984).

So, how would we begin to measure the effects on child development? First, we need to
identify what variable we are measuring and in this case it would be the measuring of time
spent with the mother. Then, we would look into the methods of measuring. One specific
study conducted by Dr. John F. Sanderberg of The Institute of Social Research at the
University of Michigan, presents in his paper a number of methods that could be used for a
study such as this, for example, observation would be ideal since it is the most accurate
way but methods of observation are costly and you are limited in the time you can spend
with the child giving you fewer comparative cases. A less intrusive approach would be to
use The Time Use Longitudinal Panel, in which each family member that is sampled keeps a
time diary for 24 hrs. The specific information that needs to be recorded or the questions
that will be answered are: What were the events of the day?" and Who was with you?

The data was first collected by the Institute in 1981, Dr. Sandberg and his colleagues
followed the lives of 2380 families and recorded the changes in how much time each parent
spent with their children (only children of ages 3-12 yrs were considered) and under what
conditions and re-examined the families again in 1997 but this time of the original 2380
only 2125 families were available for the study. The change of the number of families in
the sample pool was due to some families relocating and or divorce. In both studies, the
children were asked to record all activities, how much time was spent in the activity, and
which parent was involved. This allows for appropriate variation since each child
experiences time and attention differently. The parents were also asked to record their
experiences. The children's teachers were asked to provide scores of achievement test
along with their observations of classroom behavior. In collecting the data, the
researchers became aware that measuring time spent with the mother was not as significant
as they originally thought. It was in the relationships of the members that you can see
the differences. For example, as a family, their socioeconomic status needs to be taken
into consideration. Then, if you look at the mother, it is her marital relationship with
her husband, the types of employment she has, her self image and education level, with the
Father, it is his relationship with his wife, his education level and self image and how
"receptive" he is to his wife being employed. For the children it is age and gender that
needs to be considered because it is through the family relationships that effects take

The most significant finding in this study was that children of employed mothers obtained
higher scores on the three achievement tests, taking into account gender, socioeconomic
status, and mother's education level. A second significant finding which singled out
gender was that daughters with employed mothers showed more maturity and assertiveness in
their academics and less rebellion than the sons. The sons of employed mothers showed more
rebellious behavior than sons of mothers that stayed at home.

An unintended consequence that was not part of the data but became apparent was how the
attitude in gender roles changed. In families where the mother worked the sons and
daughters have a sense that all chores are equal game for all children of the house and
the chores were shared. Not so, in the household where the mother did not work, the
traditional roles were still apparent. The past studies are valuable to any one that would
like to further research this area, possibly focusing on the social changes that lead up
to the decisions of taking up employment or not, for example divorce and single parenthood
where the female does not care to marry along with a new type of family that is on the
rise, the alternative family which looks at homosexual relationships raising children.
Over the years more women have entered the workforce, whether by need or by choice and
most families accommodate the mother's employment and in doing so provide a family
environment that works well and the child is benefited.

The results of the research reviewed support the idea that maternal employment itself is
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