Gender Issues: Family Friendly Tradeoffs

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 16, 2013    •    687 Views

Is it logical to say that women should support family friendly workplaces? Maybe.

Research suggests that family friendliness has increased female labor force participation. In Spain and Germany, employees who take parental leave know their job will be there for them for as long as 3 years. The European Union has mandated the right to request a flexible work time option or telecommuting and some countries have laws that prevent firms from saying no.

By contrast, looking at child care policies, parental leave and part-time work, the US might even be called family unfriendly. One of only 8 countries among 188 that do not mandate paid  maternal leave, the 75.2% labor force participation rate of US women is lower than the 79.2% non-US OECD average. Correspondingly, in “The Opt-Out Revolution” the NY Times presented stories of high powered women with elite college and graduate school degrees exiting the work force. The article asked, “Why don’t women run the world?” and answered, “Because they don’t want to.”

Glass Ceiling and Paid Maternity LeaveBut there is a big downside.

On the demand (for labor) side, family friendly mandates increase the cost of hiring women. As a result, women could experience less job availability and lower wages. Or employers might just relegate women to “mommy tracks” with less chance to advance. Responding from the supply side, enjoying childly friendly benefits, fewer women select positions that require full time and full commitment.


In the US, with women less likely to work part time or select family friendly options, the glass ceiling is higher than in family friendly countries. More specifically, American women and men are almost equally likely to become managers and professionals in traditionally male jobs. In 10 other developed countries, the likelihood of becoming a female professional or manager is much less.

So, is it logical to say that women should support the family friendly workplaces that prevail in 180 countries? Not necessarily when we look at the opportunity cost.

Sources and resources: While Catherine Rampbell’s economix blog provides a good overview of the gender issues that involve family friendly tradeoffs, a more detailed academic perspective is in this paper from 2 Cornell researchers. Interesting but anecdotal, this NY Times article, discusses the women who opt out of the labor force and finally, this focus on how Best Buy and Yahoo are limiting at home work perfectly conveys the reality of the telecommuting/family friendliness debate.

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