Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What Dad's Job is Like Matters More to Kids Than What Mom's Job is Like

I am working with students on the 500 Families study, which surveyed middle-class, dual-career couples on work-family balance. One paper from this study, by Ariel Kalil, Judith Levine, and Kathleen Ziol-Guest, looked at what might make teen boys and girls want to have jobs like their mothers' and fathers' jobs. How much the jobs paid, and how much the parents talked about their work with their kids were not significant factors in whether teens wanted jobs like their parents'. And boys and girls were not very different from one another in their response to their parents, though girls were somewhat more likely to want a job like mom's. For both boys and girls, dad's job seemed more attractive.

Teens, like everyone else, are more attracted to jobs with complex work and freedom to do it. Quite a few of the mothers and fathers in the study had work like that. The surprising finding was this:

When fathers hold jobs that are substantively complex and when they report having higher levels of autonomy at work, adolescents express a greater interest in having a job like their fathers’. Interestingly, these relationships do not apply to interest in having a job like their mothers’.

The authors are not sure why teens are differently attracted to their parents' work in this way, and neither am I. Here is my guess, though. For most mothers, motherhood is the most salient part of their identity to children (and probably to the mothers themselves); mom's job is important, but secondary. For fathers, though, their work is very salient to their being fathers, because how they support their family is a vital part of their identity as fathers. The kids pick up on this, so the qualities of their fathers' jobs are more salient to the children than are the qualities of their mothers' jobs.

1 comment:

Susan Weston said...

Many moms may also say different things about their job. Reasoning from Tannen, I'd expect women to say more about the relationships and less about the substance, and more about what was hard in the day than about what was exciting and high achieving.

I do debrief on the substance and delights of my work daily--and I've got kids who ask me questions about the substance of the work and are thinking about jobs that resemble mine. But I'm pretty sure I'm not in the middle of the female distribution on that--and the spouse I share with isn't in the middle of the male distribution when he listens.