Former ISSR Consultant Irene Boeckmann Published in Top Sociology Journal!

Irene Boeckmann has a first authored piece out in Social Forces today!

For Full Article:

Cultural and Institutional Factors Shaping Mothers' Employment and Working Hours in Postindustrial Countries

  1. Irene Boeckmann
  1. WZB Berlin Social Science Center
  1. Joya Misra
  1. University of Massachusetts–Amherst
  1. Michelle J. Budig

+Author Affiliations

  1. University of Massachusetts–Amherst
  1. Direct correspondence to Irene Boeckmann, WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Reichpietschufer 50, 10785 Berlin, Germany; E-mail:
  1. The authors are indebted to Karen Mason, and the staff of the Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg for their support. They wish to thank the editor, Arne Kalleberg, the Social Forces reviewers, Janet Gornick, Catherine Bolzendahl, and Monica DasGupta, for their comments on drafts of this paper. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2012 Annual Meetings of the American Sociological Association and the 2013 Meeting of the Population Association of America. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support by the National Science Foundation (Grants #0600926, #0751505).


Existing research shows that women's employment patterns are not driven so much by gender as by motherhood, with childless people and fathers employed at substantially higher levels than mothers in most countries. We focus on the cross-national variation in the gap in employment participation and working hours between mothers and childless women. Controlling for individual- and household-level factors, we provide evidence that institutional and cultural contexts shape maternal employment. Well-paid leaves, publicly supported childcare services for very young children, and cultural support for maternal employment predict smaller differences in employment participation and working hours between mothers and childless women. Yet, extended leave, notably when unpaid, is associated with larger motherhood employment gaps.

Mothers' employment has sparked many debates over the past decade. In the US popular press, Lisa Belkin's (2003) “The Opt-Out Revolution” raised questions about mothers' ability to maintain careers, Anne-Marie Slaughter's (2012) essay “Why Women Still Can't Have It All” emphasized the challenges faced by working mothers, while Sheryl Sandberg's (2013) book Lean In suggests how mothers can and should remain engaged in employment. Academic research analyzing employment participation of women and mothers similarly reflects these concerns (Boushey 2008;Damaske 2011England 2010Goldin 2006Jones 2012Percheski 2008;Stone 2008Williams 2000). What factors support or limit maternal employment? And to what extent does work-family conflict reflect cultural and structural barriers for women to combine employment and childrearing?

We analyze 19 countries to examine how leave policies, childcare services, and cultural norms regarding maternal employment shape differences in employment participation and working hours between mothers and childless women. Although maternal employment has risen cross-nationally, gains are uneven (England 2006Lewis 2009Rubery, Smith, and Fagan 1999Tranby 2008), and sometimes reflect growth in part-time employment. As a result, substantial cross-national variation in mothers' employment rates and working hours remains (Gornick, Meyers, and Ross 1997Stier, Lewin-Epstein, and Braun 2001).

We address several challenges in the literature. First, the focus on thegender gap (e.g., Blau and Kahn 2013Mandel and Semyonov 2006Pettit and Hook 2009) disguises inequalities based on motherhood. Despite women's inroads into employment and men's increasing participation in childcare, women remain primarily responsible for children. Thus, motherhood is an axis of inequality central to our understanding of the processes that shape women's employment patterns. While research on the motherhood wage penalty (Anderson, Binder, and Krause 2003Budig and England 2001Budig and Hodges 20102014Budig, Misra, and Boeckmann 2012Waldfogel 1997) foregrounds this important point, research on women's employment focuses less on differences among mothers and childless women (Correll, Benard, and Paik 2007Gornick, Meyers, and Ross 1997Pettit and Hook 2009). By comparing differences between women with and without children in the home, we highlight the relationship between motherhood and women's employment.

Second, cross-national variation in women's employment reflects different policy and cultural contexts. Countries have instituted measures aimed at addressing work-family conflict. These policies contain different gendered assumptions about women's and men's paid and unpaid work, and care for children. For example, extended childcare leaves with low levels of benefits may support parental (and more implicitly maternal) care of children in the home (Brandth and Kvande 2009Morgan and Zippel 2003), and assume that leave-takers are supported by other income sources (e.g., the income of a male breadwinner). On the other hand, publicly provided childcare services may foster women's employment, and support varying family forms. Thus, not all work-family policies support maternal employment equally (Korpi, Ferrarini, and Englund 2013Lewis 2006). While policy packages in some countries lend primary support to one model of gender division of labor (e.g., West German policies tended to support male breadwinner/female part-time care-provider families),1 in other countries leave policies and childcare availability may support multiple models of organizing paid and unpaid work (e.g., in France, widely used public childcare coexists with long childcare leaves). Gendered cultural norms may also shape inequalities based on motherhood (Crompton 1999Kremer 2007Pfau-Effinger 2004). Using multilevel models, we investigate how specific work-family policies and cultural attitudes are related to maternal employment, controlling for individual and household factors and recognizing that policies and cultural attitudes are embedded in a wider context.

Finally, previous studies vary in how they measure and conceptualize women's employment. Analyses of employment rates may not recognize that high levels of women's employment may mask very low weekly employment hours (e.g., the Netherlands). Similarly, a focus on employment hours may miss that in some countries, relatively few women are employed (e.g., Italy and Spain). To advance the literature on employment, we examine the impact of policies and cultural measures onboth employment participation and employment hours among employed women. We begin by mapping the differences in employment and work hours by motherhood cross-nationally. Subsequently, we discuss institutional and cultural explanations for these differences.