Does Manspreading Work?

Manspreading might make you the villain of the morning L train, but a new study suggests it could also make you lucky in love. People who adopted “expansive postures”—widespread limbs and a stretched-out torso—in speed-dating situations garnered more romantic interest than those who folded their arms in “closed postures,” the researchers found.

For her recent paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tanya Vacharkulksemsuk, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, performed two studies. First, she and her team watched videos of 144 speed-dates and correlated them with the participants’ ratings of each other. People who sat in expanded postures were deemed more attractive, and for both men and women, postural expansiveness nearly doubled their chances of getting a “yes” response to a second date. Even laughing and smiling didn’t work as well as spreading out, Vacharkulksemsuk found.

Examples of expansive postures used in the study (PNAS)

Next, Vacharkulksemsuk posted pictures of people in open and closed postures on a dating site. Again, those in the expansive postures were about 25 percent more likely to generate interest from another user. However, this strategy worked much better for men than women. Men, overall, received far fewer bites than women did, but 87 percent of their “yeses” came in response to an open posture. For women, meanwhile, 53 percent of “yes” responses came when they were in an expansive posture.

Examples of contractive postures used in the study (PNAS)

In a separate test, Vacharkulksemsuk found that both the male and female “expansive” photos were considered more dominant than the “closed” photos. That dominance might suggest an abundance of resources and a willing to share those resources. When potential romantic partners are evaluating each other for just a few seconds, in other words, money talks—mainly through bodily breadth.

So should you rush to change your Tinder picture to something a little less pouty and a little more Backstreet Boys cira Millennium? Like with almost every study, there are reasons to be skeptical. “Power poses” made a big splash in 2010 when it was found that adopting them could tweak hormone levels—then sparked controversy after a follow-up study failed to replicate the effect.

Several researchers who weren’t involved with the study expressed doubts about its methodology. Agustín Fuentes, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, said the findings might be a sign of general social preference for openness, but not necessarily that open-looking poses are sexier. “The connection to mating/dating assessment they suggest is superficial,” he said in an email.

Irving Biederman, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, said some of the “expansive” women might have looked vulnerable, rather than powerful.

To Vacharkulksemsuk, though, the fact that her study subjects rated both the male and female “expansive” photos as dominant—and found that dominance attractive—might signal the start of something very exciting. For decades, women have been told they’re most attractive when they’re demure, high-pitched, and generally non-threatening. This data “may be signifying a change in what men are looking for in women,” she said. Perhaps commuters should brace themselves for the rise of fem-spreading.

How Can the U.S. Make Life Less Draining for Workers?

A&Q is a special series that inverts the classic Q&A, taking some of the most frequently posed solutions to pressing matters of policy and exploring their complexity.

Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for what we will.

That’s how the 40-hour week is supposed to work, right?

But as many American workers—and especially working American parents—know, those eight hours for “what we will” seem all but nonexistent, drowned out by an endless cycle of housework, childcare, commuting, and more work. According to one recent OECD survey, the United States ranked 29th out of 36 countries for “work-life balance,” a comparison of hours worked versus hours devoted to leisure. In most cases, the brunt of this brutal load falls harder on women, who still do the bulk of housework and may find careers, particularly those with the most financial and personal rewards, impossible to sustain.

Less than a century ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that the labor-saving effects of technology would mean that by 1929, Americans would hardly have to work. For a time he was right: The workweek shrunk until about 1970 and has remained stuck at about 40 hours (and for some groups, such as top-earning professionals, it’s even gotten longer). Is there any way to put America back on the course he predicted, one that would give workers a bit more time to invest in their families, their communities, and themselves?

ANSWER

Workers need paid parental and family leave so they can take care of new babies and sick kids and spouses and still have a job to come back to and money to live off of.

QUESTION

There is no question that paid parental and family leave is a fantastic starting point. The U.S. is radically out of step with the rest of the developed world, which guarantees new moms paid leave.

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In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but this law only covers about 60 percent of the workforce (many small employers are exempt, as are many types of families) and, even for those who are covered, many can’t afford to go without pay.

A national paid maternity-leave policy would bring the U.S. in line with the basic offerings of other developed countries. Paid family leave would take this even further by covering workers when they have sick children or parents.

At the same time, no child is self-sufficient by the age of 12 weeks, and most parents need to occasionally miss work for things other than illness. Even when nothing is wrong, how is an employee supposed to both work until 6 and be at daycare or an after-school program by 6? What can be done to make life easier in the regular day-to-day, when workers aren’t on leave?

ANSWER

There should be affordable or free childcare—not just school starting at age five, but daycare and pre-K starting as soon as parents return to the office.

QUESTION

The cost of childcare is, to put it in simple terms, crazy. As the economist Heather Boushey recently put it to The New York Times, “Childcare is just as expensive in many places as sending a kid to public university, but a college kid can get a part-time job. A toddler can’t.” For many families, the cost of childcare can mean that one parent simply can’t work, and as a result families end up cash-strapped.

Although lessening the cost of childcare would not directly give families more time, there clearly would be indirect effects, such as reducing the time a parent needs to work to cover the childcare tab, or the aggregate effects of enabling more women to advance further in the workplace. Perhaps more importantly, the cost of childcare is central to balancing the competing demands of work and life; it reflects the value society places on parents’ time and ambitions and the work of caring for one’s family.

But even when workers have good, reliable childcare, work and life can still come to butt heads. What happens when a worker needs to be home so that an electrician or plumber can come? What happens when a kid has a rough day at school and needs a parent’s embrace and comfort?

ANSWER

Beyond parents, all workers could use a bit more flexibility. If telecommuting is a possibility, depending on the field of work, employees shouldn’t be expected to physically be in the office every day; working from home should be allowed, even encouraged. Hours, too, need not be so rigid. If an employee can easily wrap up a project or task after the kids go to bed, it’s unnecessary to force them to get it done between 9 and 5.

QUESTION

Flexibility can definitely be a major life-saver for those days when the demands of home and the demands of work are just not going to fit neatly together. But there can also be negative consequences: Often, workers who have the “perk” of working from home wind up working even more hours in order to prove their worth. And once you’re set up to work from home on occasion, what’s to stop that from becoming a more regular expectation? In some ways, “flexibility” might be lead to even more hours devoted to work and fewer devoted to self-care or family or friends.

that mothers valued the flexibility of self-employment at around $7,000, and that for many of them, that’s reason enough to leave their jobs and try to make it on their own. The thing is, plenty of people who leave standard jobs to work on their own find that it’s not just the regular paycheck that they miss: A lot of benefits and protections—for example, how employers pay half of their employees’ Social Security and Medicare taxes, or insurance in the case of on-the-job injury—are tied to formal employment, not merely working and generating income.

ANSWER

So to support people who decide to go that route and become their own bosses, we should just make benefits “portable” and not tied to traditional employment.

QUESTION

No question this would be a significant step toward encouraging more Americans to work for themselves, and there is already a coalition of technology and business leaders and other advocates who are pushing for such a change.

But no one—self-employed or traditionally employed—can work less (portable benefits or not) if they can’t afford their basic expenses. Without greater pay, of course Americans are going to be working long hours in order to earn more to make ends meet. In fact, one recent poll found that half of hourly workers want to be working more. Why? They need the money. Would these portable benefits actually enable them to work less?

ANSWER

So perhaps wages need to rise so that people will not need to work as much.

QUESTION

Inequality does in some ways does seem to be the core of Americans’ struggle to spend enough time on the things that matter outside of the office. When Keynes made his prediction that Americans would be working just 15 hours, he did so based on trends of increasing worker productivity (and therefore, he assumed, wages) over time.

Though the economy’s aggregate productivity has followed Keynes’s projected path, worker compensation has not. Instead, the gains are going to a very few at the very top, while for the vast majority of people, wages are about what they were four-and-a-half decades ago. At the moment, Americans can’t work less because they need the money.

But even the richest Americans are working more than ever. The reasons for this are not well understood. One theory is that they simply like their jobs—these are professionals with interesting careers; perhaps, as economists would put it, the “disutility” of their work is sufficiently low that doing more of it (especially given their compensation) is worth it. Another theory is that the alternatives available to them are much worse—they could give up their intense hours, but then they’d have to switch to a whole different career path, presumably one that’s less appealing and less remunerative. Doing the same job 80 percent of the time just is not an option. But at any rate, if those at the top of the income ladder work more despite rising wages, how could we be sure that the pattern wouldn’t hold true for other workers as well?

In other words, if more Americans were doing well financially, would they bear down on work just the same as highly paid professionals are doing today? Or would greater equality change American culture so dramatically that work-life conflict might, for once, dissipate a bit?

* * *

Is there any reason to think that the situation might get any better?

It’s possible that should the economy continue to improve, a tighter labor market will have all sorts of implications for how much and how hard people are working. If employees have a bit more negotiating power, will they be able to attain better benefits such as paid family leave? If they start getting paid better, will they be able to reduce their hours?

One thing that’s shifting is that for years this issue has been largely discussed as a women’s issue. But there is a growing acknowledgment that work-life conflict is a problem for families of every arrangement. Will this issue get more traction as an “everybody” problem? As men take on more work at home, will the question of overwork and resulting burnout become more salient politically?

Maybe there’s an answer we haven’t considered yet. Drop your thoughts into an email to hello@theatlantic.com.

The Work That Makes Work Possible

Whether it’s childcare, elder care, or self-care, caregiving plays a central role in keeping America’s economy going. As baby boomers continue to age and Millennials continue to become parents, America’s care needs are only increasing. In fact, caregiving is projected to be the largest occupation in the U.S. by 2020, with care-sector jobs growing five times faster than other large job sectors. Sixty percent of families do not have a stay-at-home parent, and almost 70 percent of mothers and over 90 percent of fathers are in the workforce.

With those numbers, the labor of caregivers—the majority of whom are women of color, often immigrant women—clearly enables vast percentages of economic productivity in the U.S., without compensation or benefits to acknowledge its value. A survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance found that 65 percent of domestic workers don’t have health insurance and only 4 percent have employer-provided insurance coverage. Less than 2 percent of domestic workers receive retirement or pension funds from their primary employers, and fewer than 9 percent work for employers who pay into Social Security.

With little choice but to exist in a broken system, caregivers consistently trade long-term security for short-term financial gain. And those gains aren’t much to speak of. If, as in the current system, the average caregiver makes $9 an hour (compared to a golf caddy at $17 and a Whole Foods bag handler at $19) and 50 percent of low-wage informal childcare and homecare workers rely on public assistance, who will cover the costs when they themselves start to raise families or age into retirement?

Care can in fact be a national priority with an infrastructure to match—it’s happened before. Back in the 1940s, when women’s labor was key to the U.S. war effort, the U.S. government funded childcare centers under the Lanham Act. These provided universal and affordable care for children under 12 for up to six days a week at centers that offered a low student-teacher ratio, meals, and enrichment activities.

Today, the Pentagon continues to be a leader on this in some ways, subsidizing on-site daycare for military families. And there is a growing global recognition of the need for care infrastructure. As outlined by UN Women in a policy brief on gender equality, child development, and job creation, Ecuador’s central government, working with local governments and civil-society organizations, has coordinated community-based childcare services for children of hundreds of thousands of working parents. As part of a broader strategy to universalize access and improve quality, the government plans to create another 1,000 centers by 2017, has recruited a growing number of early childhood professionals to coordinate service provision, and childcare workers—who can now obtain a technical degree after three years of part-time study—receive the minimum wage and full social-security benefits.

Progress of the World’s Women Report acknowledges, “Domestic work makes all other work possible”—and this is true regardless of whether that work comes from domestic workers or unpaid family caregivers. The labor of domestic workers is critical to the function and growth of national and global economies.

These workers, however, remain socially and economically invisible. For example, roughly one in nine people aged 65 and older are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and one in three seniors dies from Alzheimer’s or suffering from other forms of dementia. In 2014 alone, Americans provided nearly 18 billion hours of unpaid care to family members stricken with the disease; that cost has been estimated at $218 billion—nearly half the net value of Walmart’s 2013 sales. According to a forthcoming UN report, because friends and family provide a significant portion of the care and domestic work “in all societies” without being paid, their labor isn’t counted; it’s not considered an “economic activity” in labor-force surveys or in calculations of GDP. (If it were, McKinsey’s 2015 “The Power of Parity” report estimates the actual value of this unpaid work is about $10 trillion, around the size of China’s GDP.)

In addition to making unpaid care work visible and recognizing its crucial economic value, a third key solution to the problem of valuing care lies in engaging fathers—and all men—as vital participants in creating and sustaining an infrastructure of care. It’s clear that American fathers are increasingly serving as “lead parents” and doing so without the social norms or workplace policies necessary to support them. Just as they hinder women’s equal participation in the workforce, rigid gender roles keep men stuck in harmful cultural stasis. Subsumed by a culture of overwork that penalizes them for taking time off for family-care responsibilities, men too face dire consequences from our failure to value care. Failing to involve men in the conversation about care as a core component of gender equality only calcifies harmfully rigid social norms about gender overall. International experts from UN Women and NGOs like Promundo are doing important work to change harmful norms of gender and masculinity through parental leave and fathers’ quotas policies and education programs for adolescent boys, respectively.

Making paid and unpaid care work visible and valuable while engaging men in the fight to value care in the U.S. and other countries can foster human well-being, build a stronger social network, and ultimately, promote greater economic growth. Bringing the global social, cultural, and policy implications for care out of the shadows will shine a light on the work that makes work possible.


Sheila Marcelo of Care.com, Ai-jen Poo of Caring Across Generations, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of UN Women also contributed to this essay.

How ‘Service With a Smile’ Takes a Toll on Women

Discussions of gender inequality in the workplace often focus on the more visible manifestations of the imbalances between men and women: wage inequality, the motherhood penalty, or the lack of paid leave. These are all important issues that, if fixed, would help women. More difficult to pinpoint and address, however, are the ways that what sociologists call “emotional labor” also reinforces workplace gender inequality.

A key feature of the modern economy—and a way work has deviated from what it was in the past—is that the outputs of many jobs have become invisible. In her seminal book The Managed Heart, the sociologist Arlie Hochschild describes how the transition from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy has brought on the commodification of emotions. Hochschild’s argument is that in service jobs, workers do not produce tangible commodities like they did in manufacturing positions. Rather, they are required to provide “good service.” The ways that this phrase becomes defined and mandated means that organizations expect workers to create and sell emotional states in themselves and in others. This introduces a host of questions, like who “owns” emotions when organizations can require workers to feel happy, pleasant, and congenial in order to earn their paycheck?

Hochschild focuses on the work done in the airline industry. She documents the ways flight attendants sell a certain emotional experience to flyers. Rather than simply offering drinks and peanuts, they have to ensure that passengers feel cared for and safe. They muster feelings of deference, and suppress any feelings of irritation, annoyance, and anger that might emerge in response to demanding or rude flyers. Other professions mandate other feelings: Bill collectors, for instance, are encouraged to emote belligerence and combativeness in order to compel debtors to pay up.

These divergent emotional norms are significant because they can reproduce gendered inequalities. As Hochschild notes, the fact that women are required to generate traditionally feminine emotions while men do the opposite furthers the idea that certain occupations are “for men” or “for women.” Thus, being a flight attendant becomes seen as a “natural” job for women, given the expectations of nurturing attached. Meanwhile, being a pilot or an air-traffic controller may not seem such an obvious fit.

Emotional labor in the airline industry also has adverse consequences for minority workers, though these develop through a different mechanism than what Hochschild describes in her book. In a study of black pilots and flight attendants, the sociologist Louwanda Evans observed stressful, near-constant emotional labor in response to racist remarks from colleagues and passengers. For instance, one white female passenger approached a black pilot to explain that she was afraid to fly with him because, after seeing commercials for the movie Soul Plane, starring Snoop Dogg, she had become convinced that he’d pilot the plane like a marijuana-smoking rapper. And then there was the passenger in the gate area who said, “That nigger better not be flying my plane.” On top of this, black airline employees report being subjected to extensive questioning by their coworkers to prove their competence.

Because airlines do not have procedures in place to address the distinctive, racialized challenges faced by workers of color, these employees are left to do a great deal of extra emotional labor on their own—sometimes in response to the statements and behaviors of others in the organization.

Emotional labor is of course not limited to the airline industry. Jennifer Pierce, a University of Minnesota sociologist, found that the expectations for emotional labor in the legal profession apply to women working in every part of the field. In other words, while male attorneys—generally speaking—are allowed and even expected to be aggressive and domineering, that does not extend to female attorneys, who are frequently penalized if they attempt to conform to these emotional norms. Meanwhile, female legal secretaries described expectations that they would be deferential and caretaking towards (mostly male) attorneys, but male secretaries were not subject to the same norms. Thus, even when women worked in male-dominated positions, the emotional expectations deemed “appropriately” feminine still applied in ways that made it more difficult for women to do their jobs. Once again, the hidden component of this work renders it less visible but no less taxing.

On the face of it, emotional labor can seem something normal and commonplace in an economy where service jobs are so ubiquitous. But as a lot of research shows, the pressure to produce and manufacture certain emotional states can be more draining for some employees than others. When thinking through various workplace inequalities, such as wage gaps and a lack of diversity in certain occupations, it’s just as critical to consider how important unseen labor is in shaping how work gets done, and who gets to do it.

Obama’s New Equal-Pay Rules

For Americans who’ve ever wondered whether the person in the next cubicle doing the same job is being paid more, or those who’d like their companies to take a hard look at inequality on the payroll—there’s good news from the government.

On Friday, the Obama administration announced executive action that would require companies with 100 employees or more to report to the federal government how much they pay their employees broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity. The proposed regulation is being jointly published by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor. It is hoped that this transparency will help to root out discrimination and reduce the gender pay gap—which, according to the White House, leaves women in full-time jobs earning 79 cents for every dollar a man earns. Further, a report from the Council of Economic Advisers found that the gender wage gap in the U.S. is 2.5 percentage points larger than the average among industrialized countries.

The announcement coincides with the anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which Obama signed into law in 2009 and allows employees to file lawsuits regarding equal pay for up to 180 days after a discriminatory paycheck. On Friday, Obama will also be calling Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Some criticized the president for attempting to deal with this issue via executive action. Republican Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska responded that passing a law with bipartisan support is the way forward. “The way to make meaningful, lasting progress on equal pay for women isn’t unilateral presidential action. I remain fully committed to forging a bipartisan consensus in Congress to update our laws and ensure women and men have the information they need to negotiate the salaries they deserve,” said Fischer in a statement. “I urge the president to step up and work with, not around, Congress to make a difference in the lives of working families.”

In a press release regarding the proposed changes, the EEOC argues that “this new data will assist the agency in identifying possible pay discrimination and assist employers in promoting equal pay in their workplaces.” According to the EEOC, this data would point to which industry and occupations have the worst pay disparities. The compensation data would be an addition to employment information companies are already required to submit annually on race and gender—the EEOC says that the aggregate data would be published to help employers “facilitate voluntary compliance.” These requirements would begin in 2017.

“We expect that reporting this data will help employers to evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

Regardless of concerns about race and gender discrimination, talking about compensation at work, though a legal right, is often discouraged by managers and bosses. As concerns rise about lagging wages and pay discrimination, pay transparency has become a popular tactic in recent years, with some companies revealing exactly how they calculate compensation to appease their employees.

And sometimes, just being forced to look at the data actually helps. The New York Times reports that Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce, was enlisted to support these new rules. Last year, Salesforce reviewed the salaries of all 17,000 employees after two female employees asked Benioff to examine whether the company paid women fairly. Benioff was skeptical of this claim, but commissioned the internal review anyway. The results surprised him, and the company added $3 million to its payroll to address the inequities.