Humboldt Fellow to Pursue Family Policy Research at Max Planck Institute
When her sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2003, Associate Professor Michelle Budig (sociology) spent significant time caring for her. The five-month experience made real her academic research on care work and work-family conflict and balance. It also impacted her research activities: the solitary and contemplative process of writing was put aside. “My department was very supportive,” Budig notes. “Experiencing firsthand how workplaces can facilitate family care-giving raised my interest in workplace family policies. Two years later, when my colleague Joya Misra asked about collaborating on a cross-national project to investigate how family social policies shape women’s employment outcomes, I jumped at the chance. I’m quite passionate about this project and have been thrilled to receive National Science Foundation support—and now the Humboldt Research Fellowship—to pursue it.”
This academic year Budig, who also is a Family Research Scholar at the Center for Research on Families at UMass Amherst, will be a visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany. Receiving the Humboldt is an enormous honor, and being asked to spend it at the Max Planck Institute adds another dimension of prestige to Budig’s work.
“My cross-national research will examine the impact of family policies on women’s employment and family formation outcomes,” says Budig of the two projects she’ll undertake. The first investigates how family reconciliation policies impact women’s employment participation and the wage penalty mothers incur for having children. The second examines the role of family policies as they relate to fertility. “Collaborating with MPIDR researchers and using their data bases will be tremendous resources,” Budig adds. “It’s a rare opportunity to focus on my research to the exclusion of normal professorial duties like teaching, advising, and committee work.”
Budig’s parents placed a premium on higher education and encouraged her academic pursuits. Becoming a professor, however, wasn’t on her radar screen when she attended college. Completing the requirements for her English major early created an opportunity to turn one of her minors—religion, women’s studies, and sociology—into a second major. “Feminist theology called,” Budig says, “but having one hard-to-market degree (English) was probably enough. Sociology, with its applied world of research, seemed more pragmatic, but the statistics requirement frightened me, since I’d avoided math after 10th-grade algebra.” An excellent statistics professor eliminated that fear, and since then Budig not only has pursued advanced statistics techniques, but she teaches the subject.
After college, Budig married and became an evaluator of social service programs in St. Paul-Minneapolis. In time she decided to pursue an advanced degree in sociology at the University of Arizona. “There I found my guru, Paula England, the mother of my sociological mind and a leading scholar in gender and work research,” Budig relates. “She taught me how to think as a sociologist, to grapple with diverse theoretical perspectives, to conceptualize problems as objects of sociological investigation, and to conduct the investigation with scientific rigor. Understanding why women and minorities are economically disadvantaged compared with men and whites—following the money—still motivates my research. I can only hope to train and mentor my own students with the same dedication and effectiveness.”
In Budig’s fourth year of grad school, England left Arizona for the University of Pennsylvania. MacArthur Foundation funding allowed Budig to follow her, but in 2000, before the dissertation was written, England moved on to Northwestern University. Rather than move again, Budig decided to quickly finish the dissertation and find a job. “When I sent out applications that fall, I ran analyses to create job talk, withdrew my application from universities requesting chapters of my (unwritten) dissertation, and prayed a lot. My dream job at UMass Amherst was confirmed in December, and I took up permanent residence at the University of Pennsylvania’s library to write. While I developed a caffeine addiction and gained unnecessary pounds from brain-stimulating chocolate, I successfully defended the dissertation in June 2001.”
Budig’s research on the motherhood wage penalty, which she began in graduate school, has been a huge “hit.” Her 2001 article in American Sociological Review was recently named one of the top ten most influential articles in the field of Organizations, Occupations, and Work by the American Sociological Association. It led to Budig’s participation in a 2005 Congressional briefing, sponsored by the Center for Economic Policy Analysis. “Having policymakers listening to your research findings makes what I do behind my desk everyday all the more meaningful. I’m currently working on another article on the motherhood wage penalty, investigating whether the size of the penalty varies across different groups of women.” Also, in 2003 Budig received the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Research Excellence in Families & Work, Center for Families at Purdue University and the Boston College Center for Work & Family.
With Joya Misra, Budig has National Science Foundation support to build a social policy database for the wage penalty for motherhood across 22 nations. “It sounds so straightforward,” Budig says, “but in reality it is amazingly complex and includes examining average earnings, experience, number of children, age, etc. to estimate what the average wage replacement rate would reasonably be for each country. We’ve made tremendous progress this year and have submitted proposals seeking additional funding to conduct the analysis.”
The sociology department, Budig says, “is a very stimulating intellectual environment. We’ve built on preexisting strengths in gender and have a substantial group of faculty who use multiple methods and theoretical perspectives to investigate gendered social phenomena, including social movements, sexuality, care work, economic inequality, crime, employment, family formation, and even housework. We have many other strengths too, in demography, organizations, culture, education, law, social policy, unions and beyond. It’s a great place to base my own work and a wonderful place to get an education, with many opportunities for students.”
September 5, 2007