The gender division of labor has long been a topic of interest for scholars and policymakers alike. While progress has been made in recent decades towards greater gender equality in the workplace and at home, there are still significant disparities that persist. One area where these disparities are particularly pronounced is in the financial elite, where couples often face unique challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities.
A recent study published in Social Forces (2023) sheds light on these challenges and their implications for inequality. The study, which draws on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), examines the work and family patterns of couples in the top 1% of the income distribution. The authors find that while women in these couples are more likely to work than women in the general population, they are also more likely to be in part-time or lower-paying jobs. Additionally, women in these couples are more likely to take on a greater share of household and childcare responsibilities, even when they work full-time.
These findings have important implications for understanding the gendered nature of inequality in the financial elite. First, they suggest that even among the most privileged couples in society, gendered expectations and norms around work and family persist. Women in these couples are still expected to prioritize family responsibilities over career advancement, and are often penalized for attempting to do both. This reinforces the idea that women’s work is less valuable than men’s, and contributes to the gender pay gap and other forms of inequality.
Second, the study highlights the importance of policies that support work-family balance for all workers, not just those in low-wage or part-time jobs. While many companies in the financial sector offer generous parental leave and flexible work arrangements, these benefits are often only available to a select few. This creates a two-tiered system where some workers are able to balance work and family responsibilities, while others are not. Policies like paid family leave, affordable childcare, and flexible work arrangements can help to level the playing field and ensure that all workers have the support they need to succeed both at work and at home.
Finally, the study raises important questions about the role of the financial elite in perpetuating inequality more broadly. As the authors note, the financial elite are often seen as the “winners” in the global economy, with access to resources and opportunities that are not available to the rest of the population. However, this study suggests that even within this elite group, there are significant disparities based on gender. This raises questions about the extent to which the financial elite are truly representative of the broader population, and whether their success is based on merit or on other factors such as social connections or inherited wealth.
Moreover, the study suggests that the financial elite may be contributing to inequality in other ways as well. By prioritizing work over family responsibilities and relying on low-paid or part-time workers to take care of their households, these couples may be contributing to the exploitation of other workers and perpetuating the idea that some forms of work are less valuable than others. This reinforces existing power structures and contributes to the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.
In a nutshell, this study on the gender division of labor highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of the gendered nature of inequality in the financial elite. While progress has been made in recent years towards greater gender equality in the workplace and at home, there is still much work to be done. Policies that support work-family balance for all workers, regardless of income or occupation, are essential for creating a more just and equitable society. Additionally, we need to continue to question the role of the financial elite in perpetuating inequality and work towards a more inclusive and democratic economy that benefits everyone, not just a select few.
Barnali Basistha is a student of English Literature. She loves dogs and dreams of being a writer one day.