Policy and the Tensions Between Work and Family

As scholars of labor relations, public policy, and management, we acknowledge that changes in the workplace have always been intimately connected to developments at home. In this section of the Gender Policy Report, we will track how these inter-connected domains are affected by federal policy that impact Americans and those living in the United States.

We are particularly interested in the ways federal policies shape equality and equity among genders. In this first post we aim to provide context of labor relations and family in the U.S. over recent history. In future posts, we will provide updated research that speaks to policy changes that impact these domains.

Since the 1970s, the average American family has maintained a steady income level only by devoting more hours to paid work.

The decline of unionized manufacturing and construction jobs that allowed many men to support their families on a single income, alongside the growth of low-wage employment in the service, retail, and public sectors, resulted in people working longer hours to meet the rising cost of health and child care, housing, food and other necessities.  For example, whereas in 1970 a majority of American children lived in households with a male breadwinner and a female homemaker, less than twenty percent of children live in similar households today.  In that same period, the percentage of children living in dual-earner and single-parent households has risen from thirty-five to over seventy percent (Hernandez 1993).

Despite the dramatic shift from single-breadwinner to dual-breadwinner families, labor relations and family policies have often not adapted to the reality of those changes and their meaning for workers and families.

For example, in many labor contexts, work is designed around the assumption of a single-breadwinner, which expects that the worker is able to be fully committed to work because there is a spouse who doesn’t engage in paid work outside the home and will take care of all life responsibilities (i.e., caring for children or aging parents, shopping and preparing food, taking care of the home, etc., Acker 1990). This model is “gendered,” in that men have historically been the single-breadwinners while women have most often filled the role of the supporting spouse.

However, with 59% of married women now participating in the workforce (either out of interest or necessity), families need sufficient and quality family leave (for parental bonding time with infants or newly adopted children or to care for aging or sick family members) as well as affordable and high-quality childcare for preschool-aged children while parents are at work.  With few exceptions, federal policies continue to reflect the single-breadwinner model with a lack of paid parental leave and limited childcare support.

Those challenges are more severe for non-white, unmarried, and less educated workers, but they reflect a broad and persistent need for policies aimed at alleviating the growing tension between work and family.

Due to the strong influence of President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, the Trump administration may be the first to provide paid leave for parents, for which the U.S. has been at the bottom in terms of policy support among OECD countries. However, access to those policies may be limited to women, which would serve to resurrect gender norms on separate spheres for men and women.

Donald Trump ran for election as a champion of “our working-class” and gained many supporters from that demographic group, yet initial analyses indicate that his definition of who falls into “our working class” is segregated by gender. For example, his calls for tax and tariff reform, as well as infrastructure spending, aim to revive employment in manufacturing, transportation, and extractive sectors that have historically employed mostly men.

Meanwhile, his nomination of fast-food restaurant CEO Andy Puzder to head the Department of Labor suggest the administration will be less supportive of recent efforts to improve wages, benefits, and workplace protections for the mostly female workers in service and retail.

Promises to freeze hiring and weaken employment protections for federal employees, and to restore a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, also threaten to undermine improvements in government workplaces that have been important sources of employment and advancement for women.

We will be interested to see how Trump balances these various agendas, as well as those of more traditional conservatives in Congress. This section of the Gender Policy Report aims to monitor these policies as they come into being and to analyze their potential impact for workers and their families.

Policy areas that we anticipate paying close attention to include:

  • Family and sick leave
  • Child Care
  • Minimum wage and overtime regulation
  • Collective bargaining protections
  • Civil service protections
  • Equal employment and affirmative action
  • Occupational safety and health protections
  • Immigration enforcement
  • Job creation
  • Pension and Social Security reform

—Colleen Flaherty Manchester, Carrie Oelberger and William P. Jones

–Photo by Stephen Poff

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  • Acker, Joan.  “A Theory of Gendered Organizations,” Gender and Society 4:2 (June 1990), 139-158
  • Hernandez, Donald J., America’s Children: Resources from Family, Government and the Economy  (New YorK: Russell Sage Foundation, 1993)
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook,” BLS Reports (May 2014)

Will the Gender-Based Violence Crisis Get Worse or Improve?

Policies Under the New Administration and Research Will Tell

It is as of yet unclear how the new presidential administration will address the on going crisis of gender-based violence in the United States. As the New York Times reported in early December, three of President-elect Trump’s picks for top positions voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013: Tom Price, selected to be Health and Human Services Secretary; Mike Pompeo, chosen to direct the CIA; and, Jeff Sessions, who recently faced confirmation hearings to be Attorney General.

More recently, a variety of media outlets reported on the Trump administrations’ request to the State Department to outline “existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, such as ending gender-based violence.” The purpose behind this request is still unclear, but raised concerns on the direction the new administration might take both at home and abroad on this issue. Furthermore, not only has the President been accused of sexual assault, but two of the men he has picked for key positions, Labor Secretary and Chief Strategist, were accused in the past of domestic violence.

Rape, sexual violence including sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, stalking, physical violence, harassment, physical, psychological and economic intimate partner violence are but some of the most common forms of gender-based violence. Their multiplicity is as staggering as their prevalence rates.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2011 that 19.3% of women in the United States have been raped at some point in their lives and 1.6% during the past 12 months; 43.9% have experienced some type of sexual violence other than rape during their lifetimes and 5.5% during the past year. In terms of the racial and ethnic prevalence rates, the study estimates that 32.3% of multiracial women, 27.5% of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 21.2% of non-Hispanic black women, 20.5% of non-Hispanic white women, and 13.6% of Hispanic women were raped at some point in their lives. The prevalence of sexual violence other than rape is also high: 64.1% of multiracial women, 55.0% of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 46.9% of non-Hispanic white women, 38.2% of non-Hispanic black women; 35.6% of Hispanic women and 31.9% of Asian or Pacific Islander women experienced sexual violence during their lifetimes.

It is known that homes can be dangerous places for women. This same CDC study estimated the lifetime prevalence of physical intimate partner violence at 31.5% and at 4.0% in the past 12 months. Last, in terms of stalking, 15.2% of women have been stalked during their lifetimes, 4.2 in the past 12 months.

Based on the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, “sexual minority” respondents reported equal or higher lifetime rates of sexual or intimate partner violence.  Lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8 percent for lesbians, 61.1 percent for bisexual women, and 35 percent for heterosexual women, while it was 26 percent for gay men, and 37.3 percent for bisexual men. Furthermore, the National Coalition on Anti-Violence Programs reports that in 2015 there were 25 reported homicides of individuals from the LGBTQ community, up 20% to from the previous year.


The numbers, while instrumental in providing the evidence for legislation such as the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and its subsequent reauthorizations, including one due in 2017, hide a scary truth: when you walk down the street in the United States, over a third of those women you see taking the bus, shopping, and going about their business have been victims of violence. Also hidden from view is the positive effect policies may have on diminishing violence. In addition, US policies have spillover effects, internationally providing sample legislation and best practices. During the Obama administration under the Clinton and Kerry tenures, the US Department of State also advanced a foreign policy agenda that centered on gender equity,  including the need to address gender-based violence.

The Gender Policy Report will illuminate upcoming policy proposals and what research tells us about how they may affect gender-based violence.

– Greta Friedemann-Sánchez and Leigh Goodmark

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Prospects for Gender Equitable Health under the 45th Presidency

Many groups in the US face uncertainties about what the future holds for their health, given the health policy priorities of newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and the 115th Congress. Women, LGBTQ communities, refugees, undocumented communities, and the elderly are among those who may be most affected by the federal government’s health policy initiatives, including those impacting whether these groups will continue to have access to health care and if so, whether that care will be affordable and appropriate.

Even before Trump assumed the Presidency, Republican Congressional members took initial steps to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and called, again, for defunding Planned Parenthood, this time by wrapping defunding into a potential ACA repeal. Questions remain concerning how legislative action will proceed, but repeal appears to be in process without a replacement plan in sight.

Meanwhile, Democrats have sought compromise, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has sought to defend those parts of the ACA that protect women in particular. The ACA is crucial for gender equity in health in that it prohibits insurers from charging women more than others for insurance, and guarantees maternity coverage, among other measures. Diminishing Planned Parenthood’s capacity to provide services will be felt especially among lower income women who rely heavily upon this organization for access to critical health services including cancer screenings and contraception. These women may lack other options for such services, especially given the possible loss of funding for community health centers with a repeal of the ACA.

Abortion at this point remains legal, but many states have made it increasingly difficult to access. Between 2011 and 2015, nine states passed ‘targeted regulation of abortion providers’, (TRAP) laws, which, for example, require physicians providing abortions to also have hospital admitting privileges. Organizations such as the American Public Health Association have denounced these laws, citing them as medically unnecessary tools geared specifically towards hobbling physicians’ ability to provide safe abortions.

The likelihood that more states in the near future will pass TRAP laws, together with a defunding of Planned Parenthood clinics, will almost certainly mean a rise of less safe, illegal abortion and an increase in unwanted pregnancies particularly among lower income women who cannot afford birth control from primary care providers.

While repeal of the ACA, defunding of Planned Parenthood, and limiting abortion constitute federal health policy priorities, other issues also raise gender equity concerns for health. Potential changes to Medicare may affect access to health care for the elderly, a group that is majority women, due to women’s generally greater longevity than men’s. Potential changes to Social Security may affect the health status of older Americans in other ways, given potential impact on their to ability to afford necessities such as food and safe housing.

The federal response to the Zika virus will, for better or for worse, affect reproductive health; other implications for affected families will also be relevant, particularly since the demands of caring for disabled children will likely fall disproportionately on women. The threat of increased discrimination against and marginalization of members of LGBTQ communities may have negative health effects, given what we know about the social determinants of health, even beyond the particular health consequences of a possible increase in violence against members of these communities and a potential rise in the use of “conversion therapy.” Immigration policies may have significant health consequences for immigrants with specific gendered consequences– even those who reside in this country legally.

As the curators of the Health and Reproductive Health areas of the Gender and Policy Report, we will draw on research and scholarship to analyze proposed policies affecting health and what these proposals might mean for various populations. Many of our posts will appear in both the Health and Reproductive Health pages: we provide two platforms, one for those that want to hone into reproductive health matters, and one for those that want a broader view that also includes those gendered aspects of health policies separate from reproductive health.

We will focus our attention on those policies likely to impact the communities mentioned above, given significant and persistent social justice concerns about their health status and meaningful access to health care. These updates will come in many different forms – policy analysis posts, data visualizations, multimedia resources, and recaps of scholars’ and policy experts’ analyses of what particular changes might mean and for whom.

—Elizabeth Boyle, Susan Craddock, Debra DeBruin and Christina Ewig

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At the Precipice of Walls and Registries

Understanding the Gendered Policy Implications for Immigrant and Refugee Communities

A year from now, will we look back on 2017 as the year of The Wall? The Muslim Registry?  Sanctuary cities? Of even greater detention and deportation? Undoubtedly, questions of migration, resettlement, and immigrant rights—which figured prominently into the 2016 Congressional races and Presidential election—will continue to be the subject of headlines and debate as legislative battles unfold.

As we begin this project, these questions remain elusive, but fiercely urgent. How federal and state policies around immigration and resettlement will be taken up by the incoming Congress and Presidential Administration remains a source of anxiety for the millions potentially impacted by these measures. At the beginning of this year then, 2017 promises to be a year of crucial political shifts and contestation, with profoundly gendered implications and ramifications for immigrants and refugee communities.

  • Unless legislation is enacted to guarantee their human rights, LGBT immigrants undergoing deportation will continue to face abuse in detention centers.
  • If a Muslim Registry is created, we can expect even greater racial profiling of men from Muslim-majority countries.
  • If the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is repealed, immigrant relief for same sex couples will no longer be possible.
  • If the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) is repealed, then immigrant women (and men) who are victims of domestic violence may lose an important avenue towards documented/legal status.

Alternately targeted and praised during the campaign season, the communities and individuals at the center of these exchanges were still only visible in highly limited and distorted ways: as demographic, security, and economic threats, or as genuflecting and unquestioning enlistees in the mythology of the American Dream. Both depictions are caricatures, and unhelpful in understanding the diversity of experience, as well as the material, social, and legal challenges faced by different immigrants and refugee communities.

Our section will provide scholarly analysis alongside original analysis and commentary of gender issues from both members of immigrant and refugee communities and the professionals working alongside them, in order to amplify community voices. Our contributors will feature the perspectives and experiences of individuals and communities that are often at the center of political polemic, but invisible in actual policy-making roles. These contributions will be published bi-monthly.

Immigration and refugee issues speak to the heart of nation building by raising questions of who belongs to the nation. But more importantly, they also affect the fastest growing demographic in our society. Our section brings a gendered lens into the issues facing immigrant and refugee communities. By addressing how gender intersects with race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, and class, we also hope that our analyses will shed light on the complexity of the lives of those marked by difference, including undocumented families, LGTBQ communities, refugees, and guest workers. We will highlight existing and proposed policy initiatives that disrupt families, and communities and have a domino effect that will be felt locally, nationally, and internationally.

In the months to come, we will examine the gender implications of actual and potential policy changes, including the termination of the 22-year Cuban policy known as “wet foot, dry foot,” the potential elimination of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the H1-B visa program, the potential implementation of a Muslim registry, the movement to create sanctuary policies for cities and college campuses, and the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico Border. We recommend the following materials in preparation for the conversations to follow.

—Nimo Abdi, Blanca Caldas Chumbes, Bianet Castellanos, Kale Fajardo, and Roozbeh Shirazi

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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  • Zavella, Patricia. 2011. I’m Neither Here nor There: Mexicans’ Quotidian Struggles with Migration and Poverty. New Durham: Duke University Press.