Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gender, Conflict, Israel and Palestine: Gender in Peace Negotiations


President Clinton and Yasser Arafat, then-Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

“If we’d had women at Camp David,” Bill Clinton later rued, “we’d have an agreement.”

There’s one thing that almost all negotiations between Israel and Palestine have had in common: a relative lack of women at the table.

It’s important not to neglect the important contributions several women have made to the much-maligned peace process. Dr. Hanan Ashrawi was a key player on the Palestinian team at the 1991 Madrid Conference as official spokesperson. Her prominence prompted the Israelis to summon their own female negotiator, Sarah Doron.

But by 1993, as talks towards the Oslo Accords progressed, it was clear that women would largely be limited to backseat roles.

One senior Palestinian negotiator at Oslo justified women’s exclusion by privately suggesting that the decisions taken were “too serious and monumental” for women to be involved as lead negotiators.

On the Israeli side, there was a clear divide: almost all the primary negotiators were men, while women were limited to the role of secretary, assistant or junior adviser.

Women’s lack of representation at the negotiating table has endured through the 20th and into the 21st century.

L to R: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
That raises two questions: (1) Why? And (2), does it matter?

Perhaps “cultural” or social norms play a role.

In both societies and economies, patriarchal structures exist that discriminate against women. Women are less likely to work. Those women who do work are less likely to occupy senior roles and less likely to receive fair pay. Women are less likely to enjoy their fundamental human rights.

These social or cultural norms have ramifications for many walks of life in both Israel and Palestine. But discrimination against women in the military and political spheres in particular has resulted in fewer women being picked to lead or join negotiating teams.

There’s mandatory military conscription for women in Israel, but they’re much less likely than men to serve in combat positions. The perception endures that men are the “real” soldiers.

But cultural norms aren’t the only factor at play here. Politics is also to blame. (Side note: When isn’t it?)

In trying to understand women’s marginalization from peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, Espanioli and Sachs found that the perpetuation of the conflict itself has pushed “gender” off the table.

The conflict and the occupation are all-consuming. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it defines political competition and discourse in Palestine and Israel alike. And while both parties remain at diplomatic and military loggerheads, these scholars argue that “gender” issues continue to be pushed aside.

Any discourse that detracts from the main objective for each party is seen as an unhelpful distraction, somehow of secondary importance: How can we talk about gender now when we should be focusing all our efforts on securing our borders?; How can we talk about gender now when we should be focusing all our efforts on ending the occupation?

I’m clear about the answer to the second question. Does it matter? Yes. But maybe not only for the obvious reasons.

 
Let’s start with a basic principle, inherently normative in nature: public sector institutions should reflect the populations they serve. As well as representing the population’s interests, values and priorities, civil servants should accurately represent the demographic diversity of those societies — ethnic diversity, religious diversity, gender diversity and more.

The same should go for government delegations sent to peace negotiations.

Some might make the same argument but in utilitarian terms. Countless studies have shown that businesses that effectively leverage diversity — including gender diversity — do better in a multitude of ways. They’re more profitable, they’re more fulfilling places to work, and they’re more likely to retain talented staff.

It’s been claimed that women are inherently more peaceful than men. This utilitarian argument would therefore predict that having more women sat at the negotiating table would increase the likelihood of success at the next stage of the peace process between Palestine and Israel.

I resist essentialist arguments: That any one group of people exhibits any particular strength or deficiency based on any given biological trait they bear: like the gender they identify with, or the color of their skin. And since there’s evidence for and against the idea that women are more inherently peaceful than men, I’m not going to try to make any conclusions about that.

The more important conversation is about how to make gender front and center in future negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

That starts with having greater diversity in the two parties’ negotiating teams, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

The conflict and the occupation have profoundly different effects on men and women. And when peace processes fail to integrate women, peace agreements fail to address these differential gendered effects.

Those issues might include the impact of the occupation on girls’ access to education; how women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are threatened; how women’s economic opportunities are particularly constrained.

Leaders from Palestine, Israel and the international community can’t afford to regard these gendered consequences of conflict as an afterthought, to be dealt with once settlement construction, incitement to violence and movement and trade restrictions are resolved. They are part of the problem, and must be part of the solution.

So while having greater gender diversity at the table doesn’t necessarily mean those negotiators will be inherently or biologically more inclined to peace, it might prevent these issues being left off the agenda.

Hanan Ashrawi once remarked that “gender does not constitute a structured role in negotiations [between Israel and Palestine.]” It must if future rounds of peace talks are to succeed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

State of Women Summit and the Equal Pay Pledge

This week, the United State of Women Summit highlighted the importance of women’s issues in Washington, DC. BWWC Co-Chairs, Cathy Minehan and Evelyn Murphy, presented the work of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council and the Boston’s 100% Talent Compact. At the Summit, the White House introduced a similar initiative—the Equal Pay Pledge. This builds on the administration’s numerous actions to close the national pay gap (including passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and passing two executive orders on this issue in 2014–see my last blog post for more details).


Just as the BWWC is encouraging companies in Boston to sign the 100% Talent Compact, the White House is challenging businesses to take the Equal Pay Pledge.

The Equal Pay Pledge has companies commit to conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations; reviewing hiring and promotion processes and procedures to reduce unconscious bias and structural barriers; and embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives.

Several private sector companies have come together to support advancing equal pay, including Airbnb, Amazon, Care.com, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson, Pinterest, Spotify, Staples, Salesforce, and Slack, to name a few.

It’s exciting to see the White House take the initiative to close the gender pay gap on a nation-wide level through data collection and analysis, and exciting as well that Boston is on the forefront of these issues!


By Jessica, MPP '17
WAPPP Summer Intern Blog
Originally posted on Boston Women's Workforce Council Summer Experience

Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Crises

In my last post, I talked about one of the themes the Executive Director of UNFPA discussed in his statement to the UNFPA Executive Board. I’m going to discuss another one here that is incredibly relevant around the world: humanitarian crises. Whether because of natural disasters, pandemics, or conflict, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable. More than 75% of the people affected by these crises are women and children, and the risks that women already face in their daily lives become heightened when resources are scarce and security breaks down.

Abuse, sexual exploitation, violence, and forced marriage all increase during crises, as well as illnesses and deaths related to reproductive health and pregnancy. Sexual and reproductive health services are difficult to access, if they exist at all, leaving women with few resources if they are victims of violence or are giving birth.

The experiences of women in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan demonstrate how all these risks intersect. The camp is populated with Syrian refugees, who are already dealing with the psychological trauma of displacement. In such an insecure atmosphere, many families arrange marriages for their adolescent daughters, hoping it will keep them safe. However, child marriage exposes girls to many other dangers, especially pregnancy. In Za’atari, many of the pregnant women that health care workers attend are under 15. Many girls fear violence from their husband if they try to prevent or delay pregnancy. Once girls get married, it becomes difficult to continue their education and achieve their full potential.

UNFPA’s State of the World Population report from 2015 does a great job going into detail about the dynamics that threaten women and girls in humanitarian crises, and the steps that can be taken to address it.
  • Include family planning in basic emergency supplies delivered to those affected by the crisis, rather than treating it as an additional, optional service.
  • Couple family planning supplies with education targeted at women and men about how delaying first pregnancy and increasing the spacing between pregnancies is good for the health of the mother and the whole family.
  • Connect women, who may be dispersed in rural, hard-to-reach areas, to maternal and newborn health services.
  • Target assistance to HIV treatment and prevention.
  • Give adolescents access to education and vocational training. This will mitigate the vulnerability they face due to poverty and separation from their families, and give them the tools to be active advocates for positive change.
  • In all areas, work with local women to understand their unique challenges, as well as their input on solutions that make sense given their needs and context.
But most importantly, before a crisis hits, governments and civil society must work to address the underlying socioeconomic and structural issues that affect its severity and the possibility of full recovery. That includes investment in reproductive health infrastructure, education, and gender equality. The issue of reproductive health in humanitarian crises shows how gender, health, and economic development are intertwined. When women have the agency to contribute fully to their societies, then their societies will be that much more resilient and able to bounce back in the face of disasters.


By Morgan, MPP '17
WAPPP Summer Intern Blog
Originally posted on Wanted, Safe, Fulfilled: UNFPA Summer 2016

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Jane Mansbridge Research Award Winners 2016

In its fifteenth year, the Jane Mansbridge Research Award is presented at HKS Class Day for an outstanding research papers (PAEs, SYPAs, etc.) whose analysis of an organization or topic is focused on some aspect of women or gender.

This award is named in honor of Jane Mansbridge, the Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Mansbridge is a WAPPP affiliated faculty member and has been instrumental in fostering, conducting, and promoting gender-related research as well as changing the face of power at the Harvard Kennedy School through her portraiture project.

This year, our faculty selection committee was impressed by the rigor of all nominations saying, “They bring new information into the world and make practical recommendations to advance the cause of gender equality.” From this impressive group, they found two truly exceptional PAEs. And the winners are:


Gender Equality in the Mexican Foreign Service by Tania Del Rio, nominated by Hannah Riley Bowles

Partnerships in Investigating Sex Trafficking: Bridging Gaps to Support Survivors by Caitlin Ryan and Deena Zeplowitz, nominated by Julie Wilson.




About the papers:

Tania Del Rio’s “Gender Equality in the Mexican Foreign Service” is an original and thought-provoking study of the barriers facing women in the Mexican foreign service, along with immediate steps that can reduce those barriers. This careful analysis used three sources: an existing survey of professionals in the foreign service; in depth interviews with members of the service; and an original database compiled for this study that, for 844 foreign service officers, includes demographic information as well as the scores for each element of the promotion exams that the officer had taken since 2002, posts to which each officer had been assigned, and the date of each promotion. The study reveals different obstacles at different stages. At the earliest entrance stage, Del Rio demonstrates potential biases both in the content of written exams and in the process of in-person interviews. At the second stage, she finds significant differences in postings to highly responsible positions and to “hardship post,” both of which count significantly for future promotions. The steps she recommends for de-biasing the exams and interviews and for rethinking the postings are practical and politically feasible.

Caitlin Ryan and Deena Zeplowitz’s “Partnerships in Investigating Sex Trafficking: Bridging Gaps to Support Survivors” investigates programs for reducing sex trafficking in four cities – Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Based on interviews with practitioners in all four cities as well as on existing case studies and government documents in each city, the study takes as its focus the problems of foreign-born women who are the victims and survivors of trafficking, particularly those employed in one common venue: illicit massage parlors. The twelve recommendations for action around which the study is organized reveal sensitivity to many points of view – particularly necessary because the authors argue that the government and non-profit agencies concerned with trafficking need to work in coalition. Thus the coalition members need to recognize their differences and find common ground on tactics and intended outcomes even while disagreeing on ideology, theories of causality, and other central issues. Law enforcement officers have different incentives and training from both government workers in family courts and service agencies, and from the voluntary members of the NGOs that engage in work to prevent sex trafficking. A serious approach to these differences informs almost all of the study’s recommendations, including identifying a neutral third-party organization to manage the coalition and establishing clear boundaries between agencies regarding roles and responsibilities. The study recognizes the victims’ and survivors’ own different responses to trauma, need for housing and employment, fear of deportation, fear of the police, and fear of retaliation to themselves and their families in their home countries. Because it is so sensitive to the subtleties of the facts on the ground, this study has produced some highly useful recommendations.



Congratulations!!!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Gendered Career Negotiations: A Toolkit for Navigating, Bending, and Shaping Institutions

This week’s WAPPP seminar was the last of the year! It’s been an honor being your blogger this semester, and I’m looking forward to more cutting-edge gender research in these seminars next year. This week, WAPPP’s own Bobbi Thomason, Senior Fellow and Lecturer at Wharton, presented her work in collaboration with Hannah Riley Bowles and Julia Bear.

Current Literature Doesn’t Reflect Many Women’s Negotiation Experiences

We’ve spoken a lot this year about women’s career negotiations, focusing in particular on the effects of ambiguity and stereotypes on negotiation and the social cost of negotiating flexible work arrangements. However, much of the research on gender and negotiations doesn’t reflect the diversity of contexts in which women negotiate. Professor Thomason’s research group analyzed 43 studies on gender and career negotiation, and realized that the overwhelming number (70%) were lab studies, all of them talked about compensation while only some discussed job benefits or promotion, and 95% were negotiations with just one counterpart.

Because the literature is overwhelmingly on institutional topics and standard terms, like one’s starting salary, it’s unclear whether it generalizes to broader career topics that matter for women’s leadership positions and lifetime earnings. One other concern is that negotiating about money may be a gendered trigger. The “ideal worker” for most organizations is a male breadwinner with no outside commitments or distractions, who is understood to have a full-time caregiver at home. When women negotiate for a higher salary or bonus, it may go against stereotypes of how a female worker “should” act and elicit negative reactions.

Using Fieldwork to Build Lab-Testable Theories

Ideally, Professor Thomason explained, research is a combination of grounded theory building in the field – conducting interviews and observing people in the real world – which helps researchers construct hypotheses to test in the lab. Because the current understanding of gender and negotiations is so dominated by lab work on compensation, there is a significant opportunity to do qualitative fieldwork to better understand women’s lived experiences with negotiation.

In that vein, Professor Thomason presented three interrelated studies on the lived experiences of gender in career negotiations: a survey of 46 women, interviews with 49 male and female senior government officials, and a survey of workers in a large professional services firm.

Study 1: Understanding the Types of Negotiation

Professor Thomason’s research group surveyed women in corporate and entrepreneurial roles about their negotiation experiences and found three main types of negotiations. Institutional negotiations are standard requests, like asking for a raise. Institution bending negotiations are about creating a nonstandard work arrangement for an individual employee, like negotiating a flexible schedule. Institution shaping negotiations change the organization itself, often by creating a new role, program, or practice.

Study 2: Who Participates in Each Type of Negotiation, and What Do They Discuss?

In the second study, the research group examined a more institutionally constrained context, the US federal government. This study allowed the researchers to survey men and women and to test whether certain types of negotiations are easier in startups or other work settings that value flexibility and disruption. Each of the 49 interviewees shared stories of negotiating for their own and for others’ career advancement.

The researchers found that men in this sample did far more institutional negotiations and institution shaping negotiations. By contrast, women did significantly more institution bending negotiations for themselves than men did. (So much for the notion that women don't negotiate!) When negotiating for others, that gap disappears: men and women do about the same amount of institution bending and shaping negotiations for others, and men do more institutional negotiations for others than women.

Examining the topic of negotiations showed that compensation was a very small proportion of the issues discussed, in contrast to its disproportionate representation in most studies. Role negotiations were the most common topic – all of the institution shaping negotiations were about role, but role considerations were discussed in each of the three types. Notably, only women participated in institution bending negotiations for geographic and temporal flexibility.

Study 3: Understanding Gender and Leadership in Negotiation

The researchers interviewed 156 partners and senior partners in a professional services firm for the third study. Participants were asked about the frequency of certain types of career negotiation over their career at the firm and were prompted to recall and report on a recent career negotiation. At the end of the survey, participants were asked a series of questions to measure their “perceived freedom to negotiate.” The overall mean for the sample was a 4.7 on a 7 point scale – an “agree somewhat” that they feel free to negotiate career-related issues. There was no difference in perceived freedom to negotiate based on gender or leadership role, which is quite noteworthy!

Professor Thomason’s research group asked whether certain negotiation types are correlated with gender or leadership roles. Women (both partners and senior partners) report significantly more institution bending negotiations than men. However, there are no significant gender differences in institutional or institution shaping negotiations. Senior partners (those in leadership roles) report significantly more institution shaping negotiations, but leadership role is not significantly correlated with institutional or institution bending negotiations. In terms of topic, men report a much higher frequency of job-offer negotiations, like those regarding compensation, whereas women report a much higher frequency of workload and work-life flexibility negotiations.

In their interviews, there was no gender difference in ability to recall a recent negotiation, which refutes the assumption that “women don’t negotiate.” There was also no difference between partners and senior partners in recalling a recent negotiation, which indicates that everyone negotiates. The median length of reported negotiations was an extraordinary 90 days, which may present some obstacles to replicating real-life negotiations in a lab setting. Reported negotiations tend to be with more senior and “somewhat close” colleagues, and unlike most lab studies, most negotiations involve multiple counterparts. On average, 90% of men’s negotiation counterparts were also men, while only 13% of women’s negotiation counterparts were also women. There was no gender difference in satisfaction with the outcome, and 88% of the reported negotiations were resolved.

Opportunities for Future Research

This research provides important information about who negotiates, what negotiation type they employ, and the topic of negotiation that can be used to inform new theories and new lab experiments. However, Professor Thomason pointed out, these self-reports could be influenced by gender-appropriate narratives, which may obscure some of the reality of negotiations. It’s also unclear whether leaders conduct more institutional shaping negotiations because they are already in leadership roles or whether they use these negotiations to attain leadership roles. Future research is needed to test these propositions.

One of the key contributions of this work is examining women who have made it and women who have made it big. If the negotiation literature only focuses on barriers to women’s negotiation or the women who have failed to advance, it may inadvertently perpetuate the stereotype that women don’t negotiate or don’t negotiate well. Further research will help us develop a broader conceptualization of gender and career negotiations beyond “women don’t ask” to better understand how women wield negotiation to advance in their careers.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Redesigning Work: Findings from the Work, Family, and Health Network and Implications for Gender Inequality

Social welfare policies in the United States are unique in that they are often provided by employers – think of health care, retirement benefits, and particularly work-family policies. How do we formulate effective work-life integration policies that work for employers and for employees?

This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Erin L. Kelly, Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Professor Kelly’s early work focused on this hybrid social welfare system in the United States, and she has continued to investigate organizational policies that may address work-family and gender issues. In particular, her work focuses on the consequences of workplace policies for employees and organizations.

Work-life conflict, job control, and flexible schedules

Specific work environments affect work-life conflict and strains. As we’ve discussed in past WAPPP seminars, job control can affect a range of health-promoting behaviors. With more control over where and when you do your work, you may have more time to exercise, cook healthy meals, get enough sleep, and reduce stress. Professor Kelly’s research as part of the Work, Family, and Health Network tests promising workplace initiatives with rigorous methods to determine what workplaces can change to improve the health and well-being of employees and their families while maintaining or improving organizations’ key outcomes.

While flexible work arrangements (like telecommuting and flex schedules) are generally considered a good thing, they may have unintended consequences. Generally, flexible schedules are decided through an “accommodation model,” in which individual employees negotiate with their managers directly. However, there are all kinds of possible confounding factors: who is willing to ask for flexible scheduling? Who gets it? Is there a “flex stigma,” such that flexible workers are perceived as less committed or less competent? Are gendered inequalities exacerbated because flexible work schedules are associated with women and families?

STAR: Normalizing flexibility

Professor Kelly’s work tries to sidestep some of these issues by making flexibility the new normal. She presented the Work, Family, and Health Network’s randomized controlled trial of flexible work in an IT division of a Fortune 500 company. Half of the work units were enrolled in STAR, a program in which work groups reconsider when, where, and how work is done. These decisions are collective and broadly framed to focus on all employees, not necessarily family needs or women’s struggles. 
The other half of the work units remained under existing company policy. Official policy allowed employees to work from home with a formal request that went all the way up to the VP. Existing practice, on the other hand, was more informal – some employees were able to work from home or shift hours, but this practice was deliberately under the radar. 

The researchers collected baseline survey and health data, along with daily diaries and spouse and child surveys. They repeated survey and health data collection at 6, 12, and 18 months. One complication arose midway through the study: the company announced that it was being acquired. The merger was implemented partway through the study.

Effects of STAR on work-family outcomes

Participating in STAR was associated with increased control over work time, greater supervisor support for personal and family life, and employees saying they had “enough time” with family. There was no effect on work hours or overall intensity. While some employers may have hoped for increased productivity, the researchers see this  as a positive sign – flexibility shouldn’t turn into pressure to be “always on.” Significantly, there was no difference in work hours with STAR based on gender or parental status. 

In terms of work outcomes, STAR increased job satisfaction at 12 months and reduced turnover intentions at 12 months. STAR also reduced voluntary exits at 3 years (7.6% of STAR participants left the company, compared to 11.3% of control group members). A related paper estimates  that STAR had a positive ROI of 1.6 for the firm. The employer reduced turnover costs and the lost productivity that comes with training new workers. 

Effects of STAR on health outcomes

STAR decreased burnout, stress, and psychological distress at the 12-month follow up for participants who began STAR before the merger was underway. For other employees, anxiety about the merger (and the future of STAR!) may have confounded these effects. Participants in STAR showed modest increases in sleep duration and quality at the 12-month follow up. STAR also increased parents’ time with children over 12 months. 

Interestingly, many of these benefits transferred to STAR participants’ children. Adolescents whose parents were in STAR showed better sleep quality and more consistent sleep duration, along with more positive affect and less emotional reactivity to daily stressors. Professor Kelly believes that this effect is partially due to parents being more available and able to stick to routines that work for their families with flexible schedules. 

The STAR experiment shows the benefits of flexible work schedules on work-family and health outcomes. However, Professor Kelly brought up a number of other questions for future study. How did behaviors actually change under STAR? Did groups differ in their utilization of flex time? We look forward to hearing more from Professor Kelly and the Work, Family, and Health Network!

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Long-Run Effect of Maternity Leave Benefits on Mental Health: Evidence from European Countries

We spend a lot of time thinking about the short-term benefits of comprehensive parental leave policies—keeping mothers in the paid workforce, improving outcomes for children—but what about the long-term effects? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Lisa F. Berkman, Thomas Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. Professor Berkman places particular emphasis on the long-term health impacts of social and economic policies. She shared her findings regarding maternity leave policies and women’s long-run mental and physical health.

Background: Lagging Women’s Health and Work-Family Conflict

The impetus for Professor Berkman’s work stems from diverging life expectancies for women in the United States. From the 1940’s to the 1980’s, the U.S. was solidly middle-of-the-pack in terms of female life expectancy among OECD countries. However, over the last 30 years we have seen a dramatic shift. While women’s life expectancy increased slightly in the U.S. over that period, other countries have zoomed ahead. The U.S. is now dead last in female life expectancy relative to other OECD countries. The reason for this shift is unexplained. A study by the National Academy of Sciences examined smoking, obesity, economic inequality, social networks, access to medical care, and hormonal issues, but none of these “usual suspects” was able to explain this lag.

A recent Brookings report on inequality indicates that life expectancy has stagnated for low-income women. In examining cohorts of women born in 1920 and 1940, they found almost no change in life expectancy for women in the lowest income deciles over time. By contrast, women in the top income decile show significant increases in life expectancy. High-income women born in 1940 have a life expectancy 4-5 years longer than those born in 1920.

The changing work-family landscape in the U.S. may account for these changes. The number of births to single mothers and the share of women with children in the workforce have skyrocketed in the last 25 years. Formal social protection policies are lacking in the U.S. There is no federally-mandated paid leave, and the Family and Medical Leave Act covers only some workers. Professor Berkman calls this the “perfect storm” that is unique to the U.S. – fertility has remained high, more women have entered the labor force, and workers have few social protections. How does work-family conflict relate to long-term health?

The Long-Run Effect of Maternal Leave Benefits on Women’s Mental Health

Depression, according to Professor Berkman, is the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Depressive symptoms are very common in older people. It may be that a lack of comprehensive maternity leave policies increases the risk of depression for women later in life. Strong social support policies reduce immediate pressures and post-partum stress, and stressful life events may be related to recurrent depression.

To test this explanation, Professor Berkman examined SHARE, a cross-country sample representative of the 50+ population across Europe. The dataset includes complete working histories, fertility histories, and extensive measures of mental health, physical health, and labor market behavior. She also examined the Family Policy Database on maternity leave policies in these countries. This study focused on first births.

Professor Berkman found that at low levels of maternity leave benefits, working women had a slightly higher depression score than non-working women. However, once maternity leave benefits kick in, there is a significant change. With more than five weeks’ paid leave, working women were much less likely to show signs of depression than non-working women. Statistical analysis showed a 16.2% difference in depression scores in old age for working and non-working women in high-benefits countries.

This result seems a bit perplexing—why do non-working women in high-benefits countries have a higher depression rate in old age? This may be an issue of social comparison. Women who live in countries with strong maternity leave policies may regret not being in the paid labor force. While the mechanism is unclear, the relationship is strong. Depression in old age is clearly correlated with maternity leave policies during the birth of one’s first child.

This finding has significant policy implications. Depression is costly, and older people with depression use more health services, medical supplies, home care, and assisted living than those without depression. As some countries have moved to cut parental leave benefits, these costs should be factored into the long-run impacts of such policy decisions.

The Breaking Point: Work Stress, Motherhood, and Marital Status as Risk Factors for Mortality among Working U.S. Women

Having looked at mental health outcomes, Professor Berkman shifted to thinking about physical health outcomes based on work-family conflict. One weakness of existing literature is that many studies assume women’s work-family situations are consistent throughout their adult life. However, many women show significant variation over time in whether they are married, in the paid labor force, and have children at home. Theoretically, there are 4.06*10^31 ways to combine marriage, work, and children between the ages of 16 and 50! The researchers focused on seven distinct work-family patterns in the sample and looked at overall age-standardized mortality rates across these groups.

Married working mothers who took some time off or work do the best in terms of low mortality, followed by working non-mothers. Married mothers who always worked and married mothers who never worked fall in the middle of the mortality distribution. Single working mothers and single non-working mothers round out the bottom of the spectrum and have the worst mortality outcomes. There are obvious selection effects here: single mothers are far more likely to be in poverty, and there are a number of other confounding factors that influence these results.

Professor Berkman hypothesized that lifetime job demands and job control could be mediating factors for mortality. Demanding jobs are likely to cause stress that can negatively affect health outcomes. Having control over one’s work schedule, by contrast, likely reduces stress. Professor Berkman looked at the self-reported longest-held job for each individual in the dataset and assigned continuous demand and control scores to each person. Results show that low job control greatly increases mortality for each group, but particularly for single mothers. This study is another example of how public policies can have long-run health impacts. Work-family conflict can have a profound impact on health, especially for those with limited social and economic resources.