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To Work Or Not To Work, A Sociological View Of A Mother's Dilemma

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To Work or Not To Work

The Dilemma of the Working Mother


The discipline of Sociology has long been interested in the study of human behavior. This interest grows from the sociological conception of relationships which distinguish the individual and differentiate him from other members of society. Through the ages, man has been influenced by social interaction and cultural surroundings. Sociologists have also recognized that a social institution consists of a concept and a structure, and that this structure is a framework made up of permanent relationships. The family is a social institution consisting of a certain structure. In earlier times, society defined "families" as "close-knit, internally organized cooperative units intermediate between the individual and the total society of which he is a part" (Bossard. P.31). The family consisted of a larger unit which along with the parent and children it included the grandparent, aunts and uncles. In those days, life revolved around land cultivation where the large families were essential. Today, it has a very different definition with the Industrialization of society and the influences society imposes on the family structure. Today's family has dramatically changed from years ago many are marrying later in life due to career choices. The cultivation of land has been taken over by the pursuit of careers and the married couple breaking away from the extended family becoming an individual unit. The pursuit of careers is also causing couples to consider putting off having children until later or not having children at all. Families now are totally dependent on industries for subsistence. In earlier times, the man was the provider for the family, he spent long hours working the land and the woman stayed at home tending to the home and children. As times have become more industrialized, society has become more materialistic. This acquisition of goods has forced the family to seek work outside the home, beginning with the man spending long hours at the office to make enough money to support the family. The woman was also changing but from within the home. All the changes in society and the portrayal of what a "happy family" should be by the media have caused a tremendous strain on the family unit. These strains have taken their toll and have caused significant changes to what is considered the "Traditional Family."

One area that has shown significant change was found being reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. In the past 30 years, one of the most dynamic social changes in the history of the United States has taken place in the area of employment, specifically of women with children. Although, to some degree there have always been employed mothers, today a greater proportion of mothers are employed than ever before. Statistics show that in 1976, 48% of the population of women categorized as "married women with children" were employed and it increased to 62% in 1986 just 10 years later. What are the causes for this and how does it affect the children?

Why They Went To Work?

Sociologist, Emile Durkheim would answer this question with his theory on "Division of Labor". Just 100 years ago, the structure of the family was quite different than what we see today. In the early 1900, predominantly agricultural, the father was the sole breadwinner and the mother worked in the home and tended to the children. The division of labor was based on gender and it was centered on the home, all members having a particular job to do which was an important part of the family's survival. This provided a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Sociologist, Karl Marx shared a similar view in his theory of an individual reaching his or her "Species Being" which is an individual's shared commonality with others, finding his or her place in society. Why the change? The Industrial Revolution separated the workplace from the home and altered the division of labor between men and women. It destroyed the household economy by removing the production in the home and taking out of the women's hands. Karl Marx's theory of "Human Nature & Alienation" applies here in that we are in conflict with the way we are forced to work in a capitalist society. Capitalism implements its objectives upon us and they become our own. We become entrapped in its processes of productions. Currently, many studies that have attempted to keep up with the changes have reported very interesting findings. There are many reasons from divorce to sheer boredom, but many of these reasons have shown different affects that would cause the study to get to broad and complicated to report the findings properly. The studies that have been chosen are only those where the women could afford to stay home and have chosen not to do so. One particular study was very specific in recording the reasons behind why mothers were seeking employment. This study was a longitudinal study conducted in 1975-1976 and then followed up in 1985-86. This study reported that the main reasons for women returning to work could be put into two categories. These categories were "self reasons" and "family reasons." (Hood p.31) Under the category of "self" the women expressed their dislike of housework, depression and boredom while under "family" the reasons were money for the family, husband's health and husband's job insecurity. (Hood p. 32)

What About The Children?

Is it best for the child to have mom at home? Currently, most mothers in the United States are employed and this seems to be true for mothers of newborns to school aged children (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997). Any review of the research on the effects of maternal employment in the United States recognizes that the social impact has been so rapid and its effect are on such a broad scale that it can be seen as a total social change. The sudden demands of both employment and home life influence the parenting strategies which, in turn, have significance for child outcomes. But comparing the children of employed mothers and those of non-employed mothers is not the only variable that needs to be measured, the father's role must first be looked at for its changes and how receptive he is to the changes. These factors are also a part of the parenting strategies. The father's role has been very slow to change, but there seems to be some evidence that the longer hours he puts in at the office the less time he has or is willing to contribute to parenting. (Frankel p.92) Another notable influence is education. A number



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