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Although the gender revolution was once breaking ground for women both in the home and the workplace, it has come to a screeching halt.
Women’s entry into the workforce and the trend of more liberal gender attitudes are slowly dwindling, data shows, and sociologists want to know why.
The real task is determining the difference of when this is caused by preset institutional practices versus when it results from personal preferences and gender beliefs.
In the American Sociological Review, researchers David Pedulla and Sarah Thébaud conducted a study based around gender, work-family ideals and institutional constraints to further investigate this conundrum. Their research focuses on prior information about how things like workplace policies impact young, unmarried individuals’ work-family arrangements.
Featured in the spring 2015 edition of the American Sociological Association’s publication known as Contexts, the study involves an experimental survey design where the researchers presented young, unmarried, childless adults with various hypothetical situations.
They asked respondents how they would like to structure their future relationships when considering different institutional constraints.
There was an egalitarian partnership where both partners are equal, a neotraditional model where the male is the breadwinner and the female is the homemaker, a self-reliant relationship for those who prefer financial independence over a partner and the reverse-traditional relationship.
Because of the study’s design, Pedulla and Thébaud were able to manipulate the degree of institutional constraint that individuals faced.
In the high-constraint condition, a couple had no option for egalitarianism. The medium-constraint situation allowed for respondents to select an egalitarian relationship without knowing workplace effects and the low-constraint option offered supportive work-family policies.
Regardless of outside factors like education level, the study’s results show men and women prefer egalitarian relationships — but when that is not an option, such as in a high-constraint condition, class and gender differences become an issue.
When there are institutional constraints because of personal views or the workplace, higher educated men and women and working-class men preferred a neotraditional arrangement where the male is the breadwinner.
On the other hand, working-class women opted for self-reliant conditions so they could become independently stable.
In this pattern, the researchers discovered women’s relationship preferences are more responsive to removing institutional barriers or policies using work-family support than men’s are — but regardless, most people would prefer a balanced relationship, all external factors aside.
Workplace practices and policies have a huge impact on relationships and how they are viewed and can largely be blamed for the ongoing issue of gender inequality at work and in the home.