WORKING FOR PAY OR RAISING A FAMILY? THREE PAPERS ON WOMEN'S WORK EXPECTATIONS AND MARKET OUTCOMES
Bianchi, Suzanne M
Kahn, Joan R
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Since the gender revolution of the 1970s, we have learned a great deal about the determinants of female employment. One of the themes most frequently discussed in the literature refers to the role played by work expectations in shaping women's market achievement. As a supply-side explanation for women's market performance, work expectations emphasize women's internalized attitudes and preferences, which might lead some of them to make work and family decisions that will curtail their options down the road. To this point, most scholars have favored demand-side and contextual accounts of women's market achievement; these highlight mechanisms such as workplace discrimination against women or mothers, and similar structural constraints embedded in the larger cultural, social and economic systems. In this dissertation, I use longitudinal data to expand our understanding of women's work expectations in three directions. First, I revisit the neoclassical human capital argument's claim that individuals with low work expectations will invest less in human capital and choose jobs with lower penalties for work interruptions. I find support for this argument: work expectations are relatively good predictors of early baby-boom women's human capital accumulation, job characteristics, employment rates, hourly wages, and occupational prestige. Second, I explore variation in the role of work expectations across two cohorts of American women, early and late baby boomers. I find that rapid social change made it easier for later cohorts to absorb the negative market consequences of holding low work expectations in young adulthood. Third, I model the life-course employment trajectories of early baby boomers from ages 20 to 54, and find that a significant proportion of them exhibited intricate work patterns throughout adulthood, with periods in which they were focused on their career and other periods in which they seemed to pursue other life interests. My research shows that -when observed over time- most women's work behavior is characterized by a high degree of complexity. This calls for a more nuanced approach to the study of women's market performance, one that -together with the structural forces constraining their action- explicitly accounts for women's subjective expectations, preferences and attitudes towards work and family.