Christel Kesler, Associate Professor of Sociology

Culturally Diverse Responses to Challenges of Work-Life Balance: Family Policies, Caregiving Responsibilities, and Employment Trajectories over the Life Course

In recent years, the acute challenges of work-life balance for families with caregiving responsibilities have become ever more apparent, in the United States as well as in other countries.  Social policies to help reconcile these competing demands on people’s time run the gamut and include family leave, subsidies for childcare, regulations of working time, and flexible work scheduling, among others. Scholars have exploited geographic variation in policy implementation, both within and across countries, to study the effects of such policies on employment patterns.

Findings from existing studies have shown that those groups who face the most severe economic constraints in finding desirable jobs opportunities and affording high-quality paid care for their dependents generally benefit most from such policies. But we know far less about non-economic and especially cultural factors that shape the ways in which families reconcile the challenges of work-life balance. The major focus of this project is variation across groups—defined by race, ethnicity, and immigrant origin—in the effects of particular family caregiving responsibilities (e.g., for young children, for school-aged children, for aging parents) and in the effects of social policies that aim to help families reconcile competing demands from unpaid caregiving responsibilities and paid employment.

This project is part of a continuing research agenda that has already resulted in three publications, including a data visualization piece growing out of work supported with Data Science funds in Summer 2020. (Last summer, the project pivoted to look at patterns of employment disruption specifically during the early months of the COVID pandemic, focusing on the intersecting roles of gender, parental status, and social class.) In Summer 2021, work will continue on compiling and analyzing two large existing datasets collected by the U.S. Census Bureau: the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) and the ongoing panels from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). CPS and SIPP data track the same households over time, and thereby permit far more nuanced analyses of employment patterns. As time and data access permit, the work may also incorporate similar datasets from other advanced industrialized countries.

Grace Lee ’22 will be involved in accessing, cleaning, manipulating, and analyzing data, including data with relatively complex structures (individuals nested within households and multiple observations of individuals over time).

Publications related to this project include:

Kesler, Christel and Sarah Bash. 2021. “A Growing Educational Divide in the COVID-19 Economy Is Especially Pronounced among Parents.” Socius. 7: 1-3.

Kesler, Christel. 2020. “Maternal Employment When Children Are in Preschool: Variations by Race, Ethnicity, and Nativity.” Social Science Research 85: 102349.

Kesler, Christel. 2018. “Gender Norms, Work-Family Policies, and Labor Force Participation among Immigrant and Native-Born Women in Western Europe.” Socius 4: 1–16.