Mothers were more likely to quit their jobs in male-dominated fields compared to other women, a new study conducted by researchers at Indiana University reveals.
This trend was not seen in balanced or female-dominated occupations.
"Mothers were 52 percent more likely than other women to leave their jobs if they were working a 50-hour week or more, but only in occupations dominated by men," said Youngjoo Cha, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington.
"Many of these are lucrative fields, such as law, medicine, finance and engineering," Cha stated.
Her findings reveal how overwork contributes to occupational segregation and stalled efforts to narrow the gender gap in white-collar workplaces. Many of the mothers who leave these jobs exit the job market entirely because of the lack of suitable part-time positions in these fields.
The study analyzed data collected from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, a national longitudinal household survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. It included 382 occupations, 173 of which were considered male-dominated, where men made up 70 percent or more of the workforce.
Cha said workplaces dominated by men tend to operate on outdated assumptions about "separate spheres" marriage-families with a homemaking woman and a breadwinning man. Yet today, both partners are employed in nearly 80 percent of American couples.
In male-dominated occupations, overwork was more likely than in balanced fields or female-dominated fields, the study found.
Mothers in male-dominated occupations were more discouraged despite the fact that the women who survived in those more masculine fields may on average be more committed to work than overworking women in other jobs.
Higher education levels make it more likely that women stay in their jobs, but not enough to overcome the discouraging effect of being an overworking mother.
Meanwhile, men (whether fathers or not) and women without children were not more likely to leave their jobs in overworking fields.
When mothers left their jobs, some moved to less male-dominated professions; others entirely left the labor force.
Cha advocates labor policies that can reduce work-family conflicts and benefit women, men, families and firms.
In her article, she recommends promoting workplace policies that minimize the expectation for overwork, such as setting the maximum allowable work hours, prohibiting compulsory overtime, expanding the coverage of the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime provisions, and granting employees the right to work part-time hours without losing benefits.
The findings were published in the journal Gender 'n' Society.