Authors of a comparative study out of the University of Texas (UT) at Austin say that American work-family policies still need a lot more work.
"Work-family policies reflect and reinforce ideologies about gender: what men and women 'should' and 'shouldn't' do," said study author Caitlyn Collins, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at UT Austin. "Through policies, countries say something about their citizens and shape the opportunities available to them."
In her research, Collins interviewed 135 middle-income working mothers in the U.S., Germany, Italy, and Sweden to understand their experiences balancing motherhood and employment given each country's social policies and cultural attitudes. Each country represented one of the four recognized work-family welfare models Western countries implemented as more women began entering the workforce: liberal (U.S.), conservative (Germany), Mediterranean (Italy), and social-democratic (Sweden). Liberal states privatize the provision of social support, conservative states split welfare responsibilities between public and private sectors, Mediterranean states' social welfare systems are highly fragmented, and social-democratic states take full responsibility for citizen welfare.
Sweden sets the standard with most working mothers interviewed feeling supported both at home and in the workplace. The Swedish women felt that work policies and gender equality in the workplace provided that feeling of support. However:
In their interviews, most U.S. working mothers felt supported as workers, but not as mothers. With no federally mandated paid maternity leave and only need-based entitlements available, America treats childrearing as a private responsibility.
German working mothers felt supported as mothers or caregivers, but not as workers. Mothers with young children who returned to the workforce were often criticized as "raven mothers" -- women who fled the nest and deserted their offspring to pursue a career, Collins said.
Italian working mothers did not feel supported as workers or as mothers and expressed the need for more reliable resources to protect and aid working mothers. Many struggled with job security and childcare resources, forcing them to depend on family members to assist in childcare.
Considering the modern day economic necessity of women working and also being mothers to our future generations, this study expresses in simple terms how much work they're is still to be done in gender equality.