In this dissertation I present a new analytical approach to the study of women's employment. Using data on 18 OECD countries from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), I model cross-national variation in "the gap" between women's orientations toward work and family and their employment trajectories over the life course. The existence of a gap at the individual level indicates that a woman followed an employment trajectory that is inconsistent with her work-family orientations--for example, a woman who believes that women should stay at home with young children but who, in fact, worked when her own children were young.
The orientations-employment gap has several advantages as an object of study compared to simply modeling women's employment behavior. First, the existence of a gap suggests the presence of social structural factors that operate independently of an individual's work-family orientations and that drive a wedge between their orientations and actual employment behavior. Second, because the gap takes into account women's work-family orientations, it is possible to distinguish between social policies that support women's choice to work versus policies that are commodifying in their effects. The distinction between policies that support women's choice to work and policies that commodify women is important, because work relationships are potentially oppressive, and policies that promote women's freedom to opt out of work may enhance women's leverage, individually and collectively, in the market.
Third, the orientations-employment gap uses women's own psychological orientations as a standard for comparison in studying mothers' employment rather than men's occupational outcomes. Because women still shoulder a disproportionate burden of homemaking and childcare responsibilities and suffer employer discrimination based on gender and family status, children may carry significant costs for their mothers, which are reflected in the "gender gap" between women's and men's occupational outcomes (see, e.g., Budig and England 2001 and Goldin 1990). However, it is also important to acknowledge the benefits that accrue to individual mothers (and fathers) and the significance of motherhood as a means of self-actualization. Divergent expectations regarding the costs and benefits of childrearing, as well as the sometimes class-specific ways in which motherhood undergirds adult identity, are among a larger number of factors that produce women's distinct orientations regarding work and family (Gerson 1985; McMahon 1995). Finally, in modeling the orientations-employment gap, it is possible to examine how women's work-family orientations moderate the effects of social policies.
In the first chapter I examine whether the effects of childcare-related provisions, labor market conditions, and other factors on mothers' employment trajectories are moderated by their work-family orientations. I distinguish among women with "domestic" and "careerist" orientations, who appear to prioritize homemaking and a career respectively, and a third group of women with "adaptive" orientations, who believe that mothers should reduce their labor force involvement or withdraw from the labor force entirely when their children are young. While it is important to recognize that women's orientations toward work and family change in response to life course events and differences across countries in labor market conditions, women's work-family orientations are not simply a rationalization of the current structure of opportunities and constraints in the environment, as is apparent from the large orientations-employment gaps in many countries. In the main set of analyses in this chapter, I treat mothers' work-family orientations as fixed.
I find that the effects of childcare-related provisions and characteristics of the labor market in different countries are highly contingent on mothers' work-family orientations and that mothers generally strive to minimize disagreement between their orientations and actual behavior. For example, my data suggests that mothers pursue distinct compensatory strategies in adapting to high childcare costs: increasing their labor force involvement or reducing their work hours, thus replacing some or all of a childcare worker's labor with their own. But which strategy a woman adopts depends on her work-family orientations. Mothers with careerist orientations are most likely to increase their labor force involvement in response to high childcare costs, while domestic mothers are more likely to pursue the opposite strategy. Furthermore, from my analysis it appears that mothers with domestic orientations use maternity and childcare leave primarily as a means of extending their absence from the labor force. It is among adaptive mothers that maternity leave has the positive effect on employment usually noted in the literature.
Even though mothers exhibit a remarkable degree of agency in formulating strategies for the reconciliation of work and family responsibilities, family policy regimes in different countries still have important implications for women's emancipation. In the second chapter I examine variation in the size of the orientations-employment gap between and within countries as a means to assess the emancipatory potential of family policies, broadly defined, in the extent to which they support mothers' access to paid work (Orloff 1993) and decommodification (Esping-Andersen 1990). Despite the importance of decommodification/ commodification as a dimension of variation to earlier welfare state scholarship, the relationship between welfare states, especially as implementers of family policy, and women's access to paid work has received far greater attention in feminist revisions of welfare state scholarship. But the extent to which welfare states support women's freedom to opt out of work--that is, their decommodification--is an equally important dimension of welfare state variation because of the link between this criterion and women's leverage in the market (Esping-Andersen 1990) and the significance of motherhood to some women as a means of self-actualization (McMahon 1995).
The typology of family policy regimes suggested by the results from my second dissertation chapter differs in several important respects from the broad picture offered by previous research. First, I find evidence of tension between the very active involvement of the state in supporting (careerist) women's choice to work in the Scandinavian countries and women's decommodification, as illustrated by the large numbers of domestic and adaptive women with young children who are employed in these countries. While my results call into question Esping-Andersen's (1990) characterization of the Scandinavian countries as highly decommodifying and claims that the package of childcare-related benefits and services available to mothers and fathers in these countries facilitates parental choice (Leira 2002b), my results are consistent with arguments made by several scholars (see, e.g., Andersen 2008 and Graafland 2000) that the viability of the large public social service sector in the Scandinavian countries rests on "reproduction going public" (Hernes 1987). As suggested by the large gaps between domestic and adaptive women's work-family orientations and employment behavior, however, the Scandinavian countries have ensured women's high levels of labor force involvement not only by supporting work-centered women's full-time employment, but by inducing home-centered and adaptive women to work when their children are young. I hypothesize that features of public policy such as individual taxation systems in which the (usually male) breadwinner's earnings are taxed at a higher rate than those of the second earner (Sainsbury 1999) and work-related conditions that are attached to the receipt of unemployment insurance and social assistance (Andersen 2010) serve as incentives for mothers to enter the labor market.
While the Scandinavian countries are characterized by both their strong support for (careerist) women's choice to work and domestic and adaptive mothers' high levels of labor force involvement, only the latter feature distinguishes the Scandinavian countries from the other countries. Thus, my results suggest that the Scandinavian approach to family policy represents only one route through which countries may promote women's access to paid work. A second major approach to supporting women's employment can be identified in Britain and the United States, where there is greater emphasis on demand side measures and reliance on the private sector and the family in the provision of child care (Michel 1999; O'Connor, Orloff, and Shaver 1999). However, as suggested by my results, these countries are less effective at supporting the labor force participation of mothers who have lower earning power and cannot afford center child care or the services of a nanny. Even in many countries whose family policies are designed around a "male breadwinner" family model (Lewis 1992), including Austria and Germany in Continental Europe, the gap between careerist women's work-family orientations and employment trajectories is relatively small.
However, while countries adopt distinct strategies in supporting women's choice to work, each strategy carries unique costs. The very active role of the state in the provision of welfare in the Scandinavian countries rests on the commodification of women, while greater reliance on the private sector and the family in the provision of child care in Britain and the United States have resulted in multi-tiered systems in which the mode of child care used by mothers and the availability of high-quality child care are determined by class. The relatively small gaps between careerist women's work-family orientations and employment trajectories in some Continental European countries such as Austria and Germany may not necessarily point to a distinct strategy for promoting women's access to paid work, but rather, factors that are held in common among most countries, including principles regarding equal pay and equal treatment in employment that are embodied in European Union equality law and improved access to modern and more effective methods of contraception such as the pill.
In the third chapter I examine the influence of a wide range of "person-level" factors such as work orientations, human capital characteristics, and family background factors on American women's employment trajectories using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979. The more detailed information on women's work histories in this data set enables me to more closely examine the contours of women's labor market careers and to identify certain critical junctures at which women tend to diverge from one another in their work hours. Specifically, the first critical juncture in women's labor market careers occurs in the period following the completion of (or a pause in) schooling and preceding childbirth, during which time most women embark on a male-type employment pattern of continuous full-time employment ("careerist" and "steady withdrawal" women) or work part-time ("adaptive" and "domestic" women). The caretaking responsibilities and financial demands that accompany the birth of the first child constitutes the second critical juncture in women's lives and cause further branching in women's work histories. An important question that I ask is whether the same factors explain divergences in women's employment in the period following the completion of schooling and after childbirth. Interestingly, two important components of women's work orientations (future plans and gender role attitudes) appear to be far more important in explaining divergences in behavior at the first critical juncture than after childbirth.