19.12.04

ATTACHMENT TO THE WORK FORCE PAYS OFF.The high price of family life.
Last month, the Women’s Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation released a biennial report suggesting that although more Wisconsin women are in the work force than in nearly any other state, Wisconsin has one of the country’s widest overall disparities in pay based on gender.
Why?
The figures also point to a gap in pay that more economists are attributing not to gender alone but to family responsibilities.

Even as they reach parity with men in many other aspects of work, women remain the overwhelming provider of family care, and partly because of that, they continue to lag men in pay.

National research based on 15 years of survey data from 2,800 workers in the prime ages of 26 to 59 shows that women’s time away from the labor force eats into their finances for life.
(It is Christmas week, so I won't carp about proxy biases, where a dummy variable for "sex" is being used to make sense of "gender" differences.) Men are not exempt.
The shift suggests that as more men take time out for family, they too will pay the price with earnings.
Compared to what? The whole point of economic growth is to enable people to have a higher standard of living and more time for their families, or other non-work pursuits. The "experts" are beginning to recognize that there might be gains from trade between employers and employees who would like off the 24/7 treadmill. (Note the religious reference here: just slightly ahead of my time I guess.)

Barbara Gault, director of research at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says the more workers have flexibility to fulfill work and home responsibilities, the less those workers will leave work for family. And that, she says, benefits society.

“You’re losing out on a set of talent that’s there that could otherwise be contributing more to the economy,” says Gault.

She points to trends favoring child-care assistance, pre-kindergarten classes and enhanced part-time opportunities as options more workers can seek to tend to their families without having to leave the labor force.

In November, a task force of the American Psychological Association issued a report on what it calls a “mismatch between employment norms and contemporary families.” Among its recommendations are flexible work schedules, paid family leave and school calendars that more closely align with parents’ work schedules.

Encouragingly, these suggestions do not fall exclusively into the technocratic "got a problem, make something mandatory" mindset. I will again offer a wager: look for workers in expanding industries to get a 35 or 30 hour work-week long before an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act makes it policy. Income and substitution effects at work. Casual Fridays and widespread winking at summer-Friday-afternoon workplace hooky are leading indicators.

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