The Secret to Work-Life Balance: Less Work

For those in the rush hour of life, things aren’t slowing down. According to a new Pew Research Center study, more than half of working parents find it hard to balance work and family, and women are struggling more than men: One in five working moms say it’s not just difficult, but very difficult, versus 12 percent of working dads. And mothers are twice as likely as fathers to say parenthood has hurt their career.

But one group in the study appeared to emerge at least moderately content: moms who work part time. They’re more likely to take the juggling act in stride (only 11 percent of them say it’s “very difficult” to balance work life and home life) and they’re also more likely to be satisfied with the amount of time they spend with their children.

Percentage of Moms Who Think They Spend the “Right” Amount of Time With Their Kids

Quartz | Pew Research Center


That full-time working moms feel stretched for time they’d prefer to devote to their kids is not surprising. As for the non-employed moms, one might think even more of them would be satisfied with their family, considering many of them gave up work or didn’t take it up in order to be at home, but apparently some are still not getting as much time with the kids as they’d hoped—while perhaps others are getting more than they’d expected. In any case, the part-timers seem to be closest to the sweet spot.

Part-time work had other advantages. While 40 percent of full-time working moms report “always” being rushed, only 29 percent of part-timers did, which is the same exact figure reported by moms who don’t work outside the home.

Percentage of Moms That “Always Feel Rushed”

Quartz | Pew Research Center

Meanwhile, 44 percent of full-time working moms say they see “too little” of their partners, compared to 34 percent of stay-at-home moms. Only 27 percent of moms involved in part-time work had the same complaint.

But in the midst of balancing their responsibilities at work or to their families, no group seemed to have enough time for themselves or their friends.

Percentage of Parents Who Say They Have “No Free Time for Leisure”

Quartz | Pew Research Center

The survey, conducted from September 15th through October 13th, found seismic shifts from 45 years ago: 46 percent of parents in two-parent households both work today, compared to 31 percent in 1970. Only 26 percent of households have a father working full time and a mother at home, compared to 46 percent back then.

When both parents work, 59 percent say they share chores equally, while 31 percent say the mother does more, and 9 percent say the father does more. Here’s how it breaks down, with “activities” referring to the work of managing children’s schedules or activities:

Who Thinks They Do More Work in Two-Parent Working Homes

Quartz | Pew Research Center

The Affordable Care Act Reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, Again

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted review in what is likely to be the hottest-button case of the term. The issue, once again, is the Affordable Care Act; and the question is whether the government, acting in compliance with the act, can require religiously oriented nonprofits to allow their employees to get contraceptive care with their insurance, even if the employer doesn’t provide or pay for it.

The cases, seven in all, are the next front in the battle against contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The first skirmish, the 2014 case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, concerned a for-profit corporation whose stock was owned by a highly devout evangelical Christian family. Even though the business was a retail chain with some 23,000 employees, Hobby Lobby claimed a religious right to have the government exempt its health plan from the “contraceptive mandate”—the requirement that employers cover all medically approved forms of contraception. Hobby Lobby argued that the corporation should possess all the free-exercise rights of its stockholders; those stockholders believe that some methods of contraception are “abortifacients.” That objection, they said, should trigger the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Little Sisters of the Poor Are Headed to the Supreme Court

In a startlingly broad opinion, the Court agreed; Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the five conservatives, said that the company has a religious right not to “perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act [under its belief system] by another.” If employees independently choose to use their insurance for contraception, without the employers’ knowledge or approval, that was a still “substantial burden” on their employers’ rights, because the employers found that conduct immoral.

The nub of the Hobby Lobby opinion was that the government must offer for-profit objectors the same accommodation it had already offered religious nonprofits. In his Hobby Lobby opinion, Alito wrote that offering for-profits the nonprofit exemption would be “less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs.”

Health-insurance regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the act already contained two provisions designed to protect religious organizations. First, houses of worship and their “auxiliaries” need not provide contraceptive coverage to their employees at all; second, nonprofits that aren’t houses of worship but have a religious identity (such as hospitals, social-service organizations, and other charities) can “opt out” of handling and paying for the coverage. If they do, the commercial insurer or plan administrator running the plan must provide the coverage without cost to the employees or the employer. To further disassociate the employer from the coverage, the administrator must notify the employees of the coverage; the employer does not.

But religious objectors had never said they would accept even that “opt out” provision. At oral argument in Hobby Lobby, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked superlawyer Paul Clement, “you’re saying [Hobby Lobby] would claim an exemption?” Clement would not answer: “We haven’t had to decide what kind of objection, if any, we would make to that.” Alito’s opinion was equally coy. The government must make the offer, he suggested; but “[w]e do not decide today whether an approach of this type complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.”

At first, HHS required objecting nonprofits to use a government “opt-out” form. Some nonprofits objected to cooperating even this much. HHS then said that they could use any means they choose to notify the government that they want nothing to do with contraceptive coverage.

In the cases granted Friday, the plaintiffs are religious nonprofits who claim that even objecting to the coverage—even without filling out the form—violates their free-exercise rights. In his petition for certiorari on behalf of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Clement writes that the accommodation requires the objecting organization to change its health plan—and thus is “designed to force a religious employer to allow its own plan to be used to facilitate access to the very contraceptive coverage that it finds religiously objectionable.”

If the Court agrees with this argument, the same argument will surely soon be made by for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby—and, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her Hobby Lobby dissent, some religions object to blood transfusions, vaccinations, and prescription anti-depressants. That triggered the most ominous passage in the majority opinion. Responding to Ginsburg, Alito downplayed such worries: “those requirements may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases).”   

That is the real, unstated question under this never-ending contraceptive-mandate battle: Are women’s health needs, and their independent choices, in some way “different”—that is, particularly troubling to the conscience? Is there something specially and understandably offensive to religious believers—even, as Alito’s opinion implies, something less important—about contraception than other health coverage?

If so, what is it?

France: Where Men Have a Monopoly on Good Writing

Are francophone women unusually mediocre writers, or is the Prix Goncourt unusually sexist? Some day, one hopes, this question will no longer surface every November when the jury members for France’s top literary prize meet in the Parisian restaurant that serves as their papal conclave. But seeing as the prize would need to be awarded to a female author for 91 years in a row at this point to reach gender parity among the pool of winners, few of us are likely to be around to see it.

To ask what’s going on here isn’t to cast aspersions on Mathias Énard, this year’s Goncourt recipient. It’s a reflection of the fact that, by the numbers, the prize’s gender gap over the past 113 years is unignorable: As of Tuesday, the Prix Goncourt has been awarded to a man 102 times, and only 11 times to a woman. That means men have received the prize 90 percent of the time.

Is Femen Dying?

One needn’t have a comprehensive theory of the literary capacity of the female sex to find that gender spread puzzling. In fact, the consistent gap between the Prix Goncourt’s percentages and those of literary prizes offered by other nations makes the question less about women’s singularity than France’s. (Despite theoretically being a prize for the entire French-speaking, post-imperial world, the Goncourt has overwhelmingly been won by individuals born in France; many winners come from Paris in particular.)

For example: The Man Booker Prizeuntil 2014 a prize for the best novel written by British Commonwealth citizens, before the citizenship requirement was dropped in favor of any English-language novel published in the United Kingdom—has bestowed awards on men 64 percent of the time. In the United States, the Pulitzer Prize in the novel/fiction category also has a more equitable gender breakdown than the Goncourt. In fact, by 1944, the first time the Prix Goncourt was awarded to a female author (Elsa Triolet for A Fine of 200 Francs),the Pulitzer Prize had already gone to women 12 times. German literary prizes have gender ratios that come a bit closer to the Goncourt’s. The Georg Büchner Prize has been awarded to men 86 percent of the time; the Goethe Prize, 89 percent. But the Goethe Prize isn’t a great point of comparison given that it is not exclusively awarded for literature and has been a triennial award since the 1950s. The German Book Prize, established in 2005, has actually been awarded to six women and five men.

Past Winners of Major Literary Prizes: A Gender Breakdown

This chart includes data for various literary prizes since their creation (for Prix Goncourt, since 1903; the Pulitzer for fiction, 1948; Man Booker, 1969 but excluding 2014-2015, when eligibility was extended beyond British Commonwealth citizens; and Georg Büchner, 1951). The source for Prix Goncourt data is here; the Pulitzer, here and here; Man Booker, here; and Georg Büchner, here.

Nor can the Goncourt’s gender imbalance be explained away by the age of the prize. Although the Goncourt, first awarded in 1903, is the oldest of the literary prizes just mentioned, and one might therefore attribute the gap between male and female winners to most of the Goncourt’s history taking place before the women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, the numbers don’t support that theory. The gap—14 men, two women—remains if one only considers winners since 2000.

In fact, if one were to rank the Goncourt, Man Booker, Pulitzer, and Georg Büchner prizes by gender parity, the rankings would be unaffected by whether the data used dates back to 2000 or each prize’s inception. The Prix Goncourt comes in last regardless. (I reached out to the Académie Goncourt for comment on the prize’s gender imbalance but have not yet received a response.)

Past Winners of Major Literary Prizes Since 2000: A Gender Breakdown

The source for Prix Goncourt data is here; the Pulitzer, here and here; Man Booker, here (excluding 2014-2015, when eligibility was extended beyond British Commonwealth citizens); and Georg Büchner, here.

This persistent pattern among the various prizes suggests something unique and relatively static about the prize-giving institutions themselves or their respective cultural contexts (perhaps even at a national level)—or both.

In the case of the Goncourt, the relative influence of these two factors is difficult to decipher: It’s worth noting that in France, the Goncourt’s stark gender disparity is not an anomaly. According to numbers crunched by the Observatoire des Inégalités in 2013, among the major French literary prizes, only the Prix Médicis and the Prix Femina—the latter established in 1904 as an explicit response to the Goncourt, with an all-female jury to counter the Goncourt’s then all-male jury—surpass the 20-percent mark for the percentage of awards going to female writers. And even the Prix Femina isn’t 50-50. Currently, the ratio is 64 awards to men versus 40 to women.

All this is surprising given how France tends to rank on gender-equity indices. In the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Index, which incorporates measures of health, political empowerment, educational achievement, and economic participation and opportunity, France lagged behind Germany but was still ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom. Although France’s ranking on the index has bounced around in recent years, the country has always appeared within the expected bounds for a Western European country. The World Economic Forum’s metrics for education and health show no gender gap in France. The country’s figures for women’s political empowerment are ahead of America’s.

popular perception is that French women are, if anything, more defined by notions of femininity than women in other Western nations—a good thing, numerous Anglophone self-help books would have us believe, but potentially limiting in the literary sphere. Surveys lend some credence to these perceptions. In 2014, for instance, a series of studies by the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel suggested that French television shows were largely depicting women in traditional roles. “One of the most common” stereotypes in fictional series, read a summary of the findings by the European Platform of Regulatory Authorities, “is inferiority of women in the professional field.” And “in entertainment shows, in general, gender stereotypes are very strong … concern[ing] both men and women.”

Over time, rigidly defined gender roles can affect both the types of novels female writers produce and the way those novels are perceived—not to mention how many women choose and persist to become published novelists in the first place.

that he considered no pen-wielding female, including Jane Austen, his equal.

But even if “it’s better because it’s better” is a compelling ideal and a valid explanation for choosing one novel over another, de Beauvoir’s writings show it’s a fundamentally uninteresting response to the question posed by the Prix Goncourt’s gender gap. Even if one assumes gender parity among jurors (which there isn’t: the 10-person Académie includes only three women), no subconscious prejudicial response to female author names (unlikely, according to recent social-science research), and gender-neutral dynamics in the publishing world (similarly doubtful), the conclusion that women have been writing qualitatively different works than men in French hardly lets francophone society off the hook. Why is that the case? And why is that less the case in the United Kingdom?

Simone de Beauvoir did believe in certain natural differences between the sexes, along with historical, artificial ones. But she didn’t believe in innate gender disparities in the capacity for genius. That the Prix Goncourt’s track record suggests a different view should probably trouble its custodians more than it currently seems to.

Money-Rich and Time-Poor: Life in Two-Income Households

The first thing to note about families with two parents working full-time is that having two incomes is pretty sweet, financially speaking.

These families take in an average of $102,400 annually, according to a Pew survey of two-parent households released today. Families in which dad works and mom stays home make about half that—$55,000.

The Evolution of Anne-Marie Slaughter

But of course that extra 50 grand doesn’t come free. These women are selling their time, and they don’t have much of it left. According to Pew, both moms and dads in two-earner households report feeling pressed for time. Forty percent of moms working full-time “say they always feel rushed.” Half of dads who work full-time say they don’t get enough time with their kids. (The Pew study included same-sex couples, but there weren’t enough to break out separate data for.)

This is a group of people who have been working longer and longer hours over the last few decades. According to Claire Cain Miller of The New York Times, today workers in the 6oth to 95th percentiles of earners work the most hours of any group—2,015 hours in 2013, up 5 percent since 1979.

According to Pew, the burden is falling heavily on moms, who continue to do more than half of a household’s housework and parenting (though two-earner families do share duties more evenly than those where only one member works, understandably).

The statistics on this are a bit of a mess, as moms and dads report different household divisions of labor, both when it comes to chores and parenting. Dads are more likely to see the division as equal, and it can be tricky business to sort out who’s right. (My husband likes to say that the work is probably evenly split if both partners feel like they are doing upward of 60 percent of the work, since a lot of what one partner does is necessarily invisible to the other partner. If you feel like you are doing half, you’re not.)

Josh Levs, the author of All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together, additionally told me that although the survey compared moms and dads who work full-time, that doesn’t mean that they are working the same number of hours. Men are more likely to be putting in extra hours at the office, a fact that has the additional consequence of inhibiting women’s career achievements. So an uneven divide of labor at home may be a reflection of sexism in the workplace, not laziness on the parts of dads.

Whatever the exact breakdown (and in my experience squabbling over that breakdown is never worth it), these parents are stressed and harried, struggling to bring their family lives into alignment with their work lives.

But this feeling—this feeling not of not having it all but of simply having way too much—doesn’t stem from a simple insufficiency of hours. As Jerry A. Jacobs and Kathleen Gerson wrote in their book The Time Divide, “The sense of overload that many workers feel is a response not just to long weeks but also to increased expectations on the job as well as at home.” Work is often grueling and home isn’t easy either—kids, especially the kids of highly educated high earners, are heavily scheduled themselves. There’s a lot of pressure, not just a lot of tasks to get through.

Many of these high-earning stress cases could, at least in theory, opt to give up some of their earnings and have more “balance.” But they wouldn’t only be losing income: Work—especially the sort these high-earners are doing—can provide a sense of purpose, not to mention a change of pace from being home day in and day out. Stay-at-home moms in the postwar period resorted to tranquilizers to deal with their loneliness, boredom, and isolation.

Another alternative, if egalitarianism is a priority, is for both parents to scale back their careers and manage with less, but that too may mean less fulfilling work and providing children with fewer opportunities than is “possible”—and for many that’s a nonstarter.

The shame is that even for the parents who are prosperous, those are the choices available.

It wasn’t that long ago that people expected it would soon be otherwise. In the early 20th century, the annual number of hours spent working was on the decline, even as prosperity was rising. And many expected that trend to continue, leading to concerns about too much leisure. As Juliet Schor wrote in her 1992 book The Overworked American:

By the late 1950s, the problem of excessive working hours had been solved—at least in the minds of the experts. The four-day week was thought to “loom on the immediate horizon.” It was projected that economic progress would yield steady reductions in working time. By today, it was estimated that we could have either a twenty-two-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of thirty-eight.

These prospects worried the experts. In 1959 the Harvard Business Review announced that “boredom, which used to bother only aristocrats, had become a common curse.” What would ordinary Americans do with all that extra time? How would housewives cope with having their husbands around the house for three- or four-day weekends? The pending crisis of leisure came in for intensive scrutiny. Foundations funded research projects on it. The American Council of Churches met on the issue of spare time. Institutes and Departments of Leisure Studies cropped up as academia prepared for the onslaught of free time. There were many like Harvard sociologist David Riesman who wrote about “play” in the lonely crowd and the “abyss” and “stultification” of mass leisure.

But, as Schor continues, “The leisure scare died out as the abyss of free time failed to appear.” These dual-earner couples know that all too well.