Unethical Wealth

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a report showing wealth has dropped for the bottom 93% of Americans, but for those with wealth levels over about $890,000, wealth has risen by an average of 28% in the last two years.  As the economy starts to recover, it’s clear who is winning and who is losing ground.

Globally, inequality between countries seems to be decreasing, although it’s increasing within countries—and overall.  And one of the biggest drivers of the growth of inequality is the growth in wealth of those with the highest incomes.

Elsewhere I’ve blogged about some of the problems with inequality in terms of social and economic outcomes. An opinion piece by Sean Reardon in the NYT shows that educational outcomes are becoming more divergent for the upper and lower classes, within the United States. While school funding is not the key issue he highlights, it’s part of the story.  In Philadelphia, public schools are looking at cuts of 25%—this translates into the removal of counselors and programs, and increasing class sizes above 30.

In the classes I teach on social change and globalization, students leave class discouraged many days. We spent one session focused on the conditions and power held by many workers involved in different commodities around the world.  We discussed coffee (John Talbot,’s Grounds for Agreement), maize (Elizabeth Fitting’s The Struggle for Maize), tomatoes (Deborah Bardnt’s Tangled Routes), and cotton (Koray Caliskan’s Market Threads). The story of the lack of power held by workers in each of these commodity trades is a consistent theme, and one that can be a struggle to engage.

Sometimes I hear students talking about ethical business or business as mission.  I’d love to see these conversations intersect more with those on issues of inequality. Many conceptions of ethical business often revolve around principles like giving back, not cheating, or refusing to actively exploit others. Yet we rarely think about the distribution of profits, or how businesses and actors are contributing (or challenging) the growing inequality in power held by people around the world.

While many are not thinking in those terms, others area, and I want to highlight one of those cases. I recently had an article published in Latin American Research Review, where I describe the ways some Central American coffee actors think about ethical business practices.  They had both a broader view of what ethical commitments mean, as well as a more integrated understanding of how issues of power and the Gospel are intertwined.

While these evangelicals gave money to their community, and volunteered time to mentoring youth, that was not the central way they practiced social responsibility. They prioritized increasing the value-added nature of work done by coffee farmers.  They did this through agricultural training, but also by challenging some current market structures and dynamics. As one of the leaders suggested, the way they demonstrated their faith was to “introduce values—Christian values, Christian ethics, transparency, and stewardship.”  For them, this meant recognizing that current business practices accepted in the coffee sector had to be challenged.

Giving to those in need may just exacerbate high power and wealth differentials. It’s no surprise that these same actors I interviewed in Central America were critical of US Christian responses to give aid to farmers instead of simply paying higher prices for a product.  For them, to be ethical meant to think about transforming the ways business worked. In my next research project, I’m gathering data to look at how the over $2.3 billion per year from U.S. religious humanitarian organizations is spent in dealing with poverty, and how common (or uncommon) this example from Central America is.  As inequality levels continue to rise, and power becomes more concentrated in the hands of a few, Christians need to be thinking more critically about what it means to engage in ethical practices in our economy.

Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers

In my last post, I suggested that as a society, we should be more encouraging of men who are trying to combine work and family. The problem that women confront in the workplace is about both about gender and a principle of devotion to work.  Many of the challenges that women face in balancing family and work are those also faced by men.

I am especially concerned with the working fathers who are serving as equal co-parents in their children’s lives, and fathers who are involved in relatively equivalent amounts (or more) of domestic work as their partners.   I’m not talking about fathers who make sure to make it home for dinner—I’m talking about fathers who are often making dinner. I recognize that there are a number of men without children who still struggle to balance work/family demands, but will focus this post more on working fathers. I also refer to these men as egalitarian men; this is not meant to be a theological statement regarding their beliefs about women in the church, but rather, a statement about their family practices and beliefs that reveal relatively equal roles in their families with their partners.  A blog by Dr. Scott Behson on Fathers, Work, and Family, provides an example of this population I’m considering (and also raises many of the same concerns addressed here – I suggest checking it out).

This population of working fathers is significant. Just last month, Pew Research Center released a report on the roles of moms and dads, with attention to how they spend their time and think about issues of work and family. While 56% of working mothers note it is very or somewhat difficult to balance work/family, 50% of men report the same thing.  Fathers are also more likely than mothers to feel that they spend too little time with their children (46% to 23%).  But perhaps most important for the topic of this post, I was interested in this chart reflecting who does more at home.

About 5% of women and men argue that men do more childcare; while close to half report that men and women are equally involved in childcare.  Further, when it comes to household chores, a majority of men (and almost half of women) say that fathers do as much or more than mothers.  While fathers and mothers both tend to see themselves as working more than their partners might, a large percentage of men are doing a lot at home.  Yes, there is a gender gap.  But when we concentrate on the median and mean, we can fail to recognize than in many families, this gender gap may not exist, while in others, it’s actually larger than the macro-level data reveals.

Challenges for Men

(1) In the last blog, I highlighted that these men are often paid less than men with traditional attitudes.  Compared to more traditional men, egalitarian men with significant commitments to family can both face significant obstacles in being hired and promoted.  Gillian Ranson, a sociologist at the University of Calgary, profiles a number of these working fathers in his article, “Men, Paid Employment, and Family Responsibilities: Conceptualizing the ‘Working Father.’”  These men often need to leave the office early, or desire not to work every day. They are not always on call, and rarely have a partner at home who manages domestic responsibilities.  The study from Cornell University (by Judge and Livingston) also suggested than egalitarian men may also be less aggressive in wage negotiations than more traditional men, and so suffer further economic penalties.

Such men may also be restricted (compared with traditional men) in the jobs that they are able to take. Families cannot easily move to support men in their careers.  Egalitarian men are more likely than other men to prioritize their spouse’s career; this may sometimes entail moving for their partner, which could accompany a downward career move.  They are often being compared with men who have a spouse who is dedicated primarily to the family; this is rarely something noted on their CV. While I have not seen longitudinal data, I would hypothesize that these men have less successful career trajectories than men with similar demographics and more traditional gender role attitudes.

(2) For fathers who are trying to be invested in their families, we often find that there are fewer supports for them than women. This is both an institutional and a cultural problem.  In some places, women are offered more flexibility than men when it comes to balancing work and family.   Second, even when paternity leave may technically be available for men, it may be discouraged. Ranson finds, for example, that mothers are still much more likely to take advantage of family-friendly initiatives.

(3) These men are also often lumped together as being ‘men’ who do not deal with the same challenges as women.  Increasingly in sociology we talk about intersectionality: the idea that gender cannot be understood outside its dynamics with class and race.  A recent article in the Journal of Marriage and Family by sociologists Rebecca Glauber and Kristi Gozjolko looks precisely at how issues of intersectionality can shed light on how men deal with work-family tensions.

 We found that fatherhood was associated with an increase in married White men’s time spent in paid work. The increase was more than twice as strong for traditional White men than for egalitarian White men. In contrast, both egalitarian and traditional African American men did not work more when they became fathers.  These findings suggest that African American men may express gender traditionalism but adopt more egalitarian work-family arrangements (“Do Traditional Fathers Always Work More? Gender, Ideology, Race, and Parenthood,” p.1133)

What I find interesting about their study is two-fold.  One, the story of working fathers cannot be separated from race, as the ‘traditional’ model often heralded is one predominantly adopted by whites.  Although not tested, this would lead me to suspect that some part of the wage gap between white and black men is in part due to their different family dynamics and work-family balance.  Second, it suggests that just as race is important in understanding the wages men receive, so are the attitudes that men have towards gender roles and family.

At the end of the day, I found more scholars investigating these issues than I had previously known about; however, I also found a real lack of empirical data regarding the challenges and costs that these fathers face.   And in our pursuits to decrease gender inequality and break down gendered stereotypes, it’s vital that such working fathers are supported.

Why We Should Support Men

Part I of II

The issue of women having work/life balance has occupied a lot of media attention as of late. Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic this summer on the challenges of women having it all attracted a lot of attention (and Margarita Mooney blogged in response to it on this site).  Marissa Mayer of Yahoo’s decision to end some work-from-home options received a lot of outrage from people suggesting she was making things harder for women.  Most recently, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg has captured media attention for her new book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.  Some have claimed her message of encouraging women to speak up more overlooks some of the institutional challenges to women in leadership (and particularly challenges facing those outside the upper-middle class).

Even as the perspectives raised by the aforementioned public figures may differ in their focus on personal or structural ways forward, they are united in their focus on the unique challenges women face today in balancing work and family.  As someone who teaches on gender and the family, I understand the importance to highlight the role gender plays in our society, and it’s been encouraging to see more public attention on these issues. Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership, and still face discrimination in our workplace.  And as I’ve blogged about before, gendered stereotypes are argued to be one of the main hindrances towards greater equality today.

Cover: Competing Devotions in PAPERBACK

But where are the men in these discussions?  It seems that the public attention often focuses on the challenges of women in their work-life balance—when we could have a discussion on the challenges of work-life balance (that especially, but not exclusively, impact women). Mary Blair-Loy, in her book, Competing Devotions: Career and Family Among Women Executives (Harvard University Press, 2005), makes use of two important concepts: devotion to work and devotion to home.  Adding to our understanding of a separate spheres mentality that may often separate work (male) and home (female), she argues that this devotion to work mentality – and a corresponding devotion to home mentality –inhibits women from succeeding (or in recent rhetoric, from having it all).  In her study of professional women, the central problem is that home and work are greedy and demanding institutions.  And for the women she studies, even when they are in successful careers, they often feel the social pressure to be devoted in ways to home.

Her analysis has been helpful for me in shifting the conversation away from “How do women have it all?” towards “How do we challenge the concepts of devotion to work OR devotion to family?”  This is essential for what I propose in an area in need of much more attention – how to bring men more fully into the picture.

There has been very little discussion of the challenges that men face as they encounter some of the same struggles that women today face.  Without ignoring the persistence of gender inequality in our world, I want to note that the challenge of being devoted to work and family is one increasingly faced by men, and one where they, along with women, lack institutional support.

bookshot

Kathleen Gerson, in her book The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in A New Era of Gender, Work, and Family (Oxford University Press, 2009) argues that today, many young men and women seek to have egalitarian relationships, yet find such arrangements often unviable.  She finds men who seek to balance managing their home live with their partner; those who plan to support a partner’s career and not just their own.

I would love to see more public discussion about how we support these men – either alongside women, or in the unique challenges that they face as well.  It is not just women who are balancing a second shift that are competing against men who are mostly devoted to work—it is also men balancing a second shift that are finding it hard to succeed at the same level in the workplace.

Evidence of the challenges that egalitarian men face is found in analysis of the pay gap.  A study released three years ago by Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (ILR School) finds that gender role attitudes are a big part of the gender wage gap.

The wage gap between men with traditional views and men with egalitarian views is greater than the wage gap between men and women (1)

As someone who has the privilege of being married to a man who has supported my career and invested equivalent energy in our children, the research does not surprise me; I know that many of the same challenges I face in balancing a commitment to work and family are ones that we share. We both have to think about our family when scheduling to be out of town for research and work; we both have made job decisions that would look different in one spouse was trailing the other. For him and other egalitarian-minded men, those challenges are often unacknowledged.  Yes, I fully support efforts to increase the presence of women in leadership, and to make institutional and societal challenges that foster an environment where that happens.  But I’d also like to see men who are balancing those family and work divides meet success in their efforts, and doing so also requires supporting them.

To be honest, the lack of attention to the challenges of men in balancing family-work is not just a problem in the media; academic research on the topic is also scant.  In my next post, I’ll delve into some of the challenges that such men face in the workplace.

Contesting the Good News

This summer, I have the opportunity to travel to Brazil with Calvin College’s Nagel Institute, for a seminar focused on understanding how Pentecostals are interacting with and shaping globalization forces.  This question of how religious actors around the world understand and conceive of economic life—and in particular, aspects of increasing economic liberalization—is a central focus of my research.

I’ve recently finished Jill DeTemple’s 2012 book, Cement, Earthworms, and Cheese Factories: Religion and Community Development in Rural Ecuador (University of Notre Dame Press).  It’s one of the most recent books to look at a question that is growing in importance to a number of development scholars: How religion and development are intertwined and interconnected.

In discussing  historical trajectory of development, she makes a convincing argument that many of the colonizing impulses behind ‘economic development’ and Christian proselytization in the West are similar.

 Progress in its broadest sense—spiritual, cultural, technological—became the optimal way to achieve salvation’s ends (28).

Spreading the Gospel–the Good News–is a term some might use to talk about the message of God’s salvation in Christ, or the message of growth and progress for the world.  For some, mantras of growth and economic development are the true message that must be shared for the world to succeed today.

I’ve written on this question of the aims of development before. DeTemple’s work focuses more on the ways that religious and development goals get intertwined in specific places and contexts, and the lack of distinct boundaries between the two. But in telling the stories of communities, she shows that many times the goals and assumptions of development workers and ‘those being developed’ are not the same. The ends of development are re imagined.

One of the foundational aspects of development for many in the industry is economic growth (which I recently addressed).  So how are religious actors engaging with this largely uncontested belief?  In my book manuscript, I focus on how religious actors discuss and frame free trade and economic globalization.  What’s fascinating to me is the way that across a number of Christian traditions, religious voices continue to raise questions about the real goals of development and growth, almost universally critiquing our emphasis on economic individualism and a lack of concern about responsibility and relationship with neighbor.  And just as fascinating to me is that even as there seems to be much agreement among religious leaders, these voices are largely muted in public economic debates.

In understanding how Pentecostals in Brazil are engaging with globalization, I look forward to seeing the ways that actors on the ground—those engaging with poverty reduction and interacting with development programs—are part of a larger religious conversation about the value of growth and development.  As I continue to engage further in dialogues on religion and development, I’d love to hear other examples you may have of how religious actors are challenging global values and structures of current globalization paradigms in their micro-level efforts.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X