MEN AND WOMEN, WORK AND FAMILY: A TEST OF COMPETING PERSPECTIVES

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Abstract

Women in Western societies have made enormous gains in education and labor force involvement since the middle of the twentieth century. Various gender differences persist, however. For example, young men and women in the United States continue to differ in their plans for work and family, with women more likely than men to choose careers that will “work around” their family plans (Bridges, 1989). A social constructionist perspective suggests that such differences are the result of societal influences that reinforce traditional gender roles. An evolutionary perspective explains psychological sex differences in work and family priorities as a natural consequence of greater female investment in children over evolutionary history. In the current paper, we test competing predictions about how exposure to college --an environment that encourages gender egalitarianism and individual choice -- might moderate the magnitude of male-female differences in work-family plans. We surveyed broad samples of freshmen and seniors enrolled in a public liberal arts university. Sex differences apparent in first-year students' educational aspirations were absent among seniors. However, men and women at both points in college differed sharply in their plans for working when they had young children at home. We discuss our findings in the context of broader concerns about women's status in the workforce.

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