on the way upMy day job is teaching applied economics to students in the Masters program in Arts Administration at Indiana University (including the topics I cover in this blog). Ours is a residential program, and the students are for the most part young, with only a few years in the work force, if any, and they are looking to launch a career in arts management. The class is typically over 90% female. What should I tell my students about gender in the workplace and at home?

Two recent studies are relevant. The first comes from Marianne Bertrand, Emir Kamenica and Jessica Pan of the University of Chicago, “Gender Identity and  Relative Income within Households” – it is discussed in the New York Times today by Richard Thaler. Here is the abstract of the paper:

We examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. We establish that gender identity – in particular, an aversion to the wife earning more than the husband – impacts marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. The distribution of the share of household income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp cliff at 0.5, which suggests that a couple is less willing to match if her income exceeds his. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. Within couples, if the wife’s potential income (based on her demographics) is likely to exceed the husband’s, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. Couples where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfi ed with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Finally, based on time use surveys, the gender gap in non-market work is larger if the wife earns more than the husband.

In a nutshell: marriages are less likely to form between a couple if the woman earns more than the man; for marriages that do exhibit the wife earning more, the marriage is less stable; and, women are less likely to earn to their full potential if that would involve earning more than the man.

The second study (here is Hanna Rosen’s take) is from Pew:

A new Pew Research Center survey, conducted April 25-28, 2013, finds that the public remains of two minds about the gains women have made in the workplace–most recognize the clear economic benefits to families, but at the same time many voice concerns about the toll having a working mother may take on children.

The release of the study led some men in the media to make fools of themselves on a grand scale, but there has always been in the media a meme of what Jessica Valenti memorably called “sad white babies with mean feminist mommies.” And as such it cannot help but be the case that women on a management track to some degree internalize the doubts about whether the ambitious pursuit of a career is a healthy thing, a doubt that is layered upon unwarranted doubts in their own abilities (Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In aims to relieve these doubts, and although not without its critics I agree with Alyssa Rosenberg that this is a book my young women students really ought to read).

I have not raised issues of career and household in my classes before – I’ll give it a go this fall. Meanwhile, I’ll ask readers: what are you seeing in the art world in terms of career ambitions of women and men?

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  1. says

    It is smart of you to consider prepping these students for the challenges and changes facing the arts now and in the coming 3-5 years. As a 35 year old woman, married, with a little guy, I would suggest treading lightly on this topic in the fall. What you are discussing is very individualistic.

    I found my way into this industry at age 25 and had some stumbling blocks along the way – normal twenty something growing pains. It’s hard enough out there finding one’s way without professors or colleagues reminding us that it might be tougher with marriage and kids. Moreover, it’s like when people would spew advice to me when I was expecting – you don’t quite get it until you live it. These women have to live it. I think they key is to keep it real and appropriate. For example, big foundations often have amazing benefits. Small business (under 25 employees) in any industry don’t have to adhere to the same rules and most are making things up as they go along. My maternity leave would have looked very different at a small performing arts agency than it did at the foundation.

    I read those stats you quoted above and I rolled my eyes. And if someone told me that in class 13 years ago, I’d have rolled my eyes then and likely walked out. We’re not defined by these studies. Encourage those women not to stress over what research says or what society suggests and to follow their passion – and it’s perfectly OK to have many passions and life dreams – and change them even. Best advice I received from a great woman 15 years my senior was – “You can do it all…just maybe not all at the same time.” It reminds me to prioritize and stay true to my passions. The more secure they are in themselves the better they will be – in their careers, in their relationships, in life.

    Finally, I would second having them read Sheryl Sandberg’s book. I know it has its criticism – as does any book – and in conjunction with other reads (blogs, books), or a guest speaker – all can provide perspective. Again, I wouldn’t overdo all this…Like I said, it’s hard enough without someone else adding worry that they have to have their lives figured out right now.

  2. Emily H. says

    I second much of what Chrissie says – and much of what your post suggests. This topic actually did come up last fall in Hunt’s capstone class with us. I think it took the two men in the class a bit by surprise, but there were LOTS of opinions – especially from the two of us who were married (one with a kid) about this whole “do it all” question. It made for great class discussion, especially when there were folks at various stages in their lives/careers/families.

    I wholeheartedly recommend “Lean In.” I expected to be turned off by it because of what I had heard from critics, but it turned out to be actually quite empowering and enlightening. It put things in perspective. I think it’d be interesting for men to read as well – Sandberg spends much of the book talking about how we need to do more than talk to women about these things. Families and marriages are and should be partnerships. Women won’t be able to advance without a shift in how all of us think about women and their careers.

    While I think it’s a great classroom discussion topic (it was one of my favorites when it came up in Hunt’s capstone seminar last year), it is one where you have to tread lightly. That being said, all of those students – men included – will have to face the question of prioritizing work with family. I personally think it’s a really interesting topic for discussion, but Chrissie’s right. Much of it is a “you live you learn” kind of thing.

  3. Anonymous says

    As woman who has been in the arts administration field for 13 years, holding a variety of job responsibilities – executive director, marketing & development, education coordinator, I think your conversation has value in the classroom. Chrissie’s statement “You can do it all…just maybe not all at the same time” is very real in my life. I have taken a step back in my career to have a marriage and child. Change of priorities.

    I strongly encourage when you have the discussion in the classroom, bring in a female colleague to offer their insight and influence the discussion.

  4. Anonymous says

    I definitely agree about Lean In being worth the read for females in and entering the workforce. I’m a mid-career arts administrator and just read it this year. I wish I would have been prepared sooner for what I’m now experiencing in my field. While I’m not concerned about tension coming from home in relation to my career or salary, I am very much concerned with tension from the workplace affecting my home life.

    When I was a lower level Manager and Coordinator, I feel I must have been buffered from seeing the gender inequality that I now witness in the arts as a Director. I never felt bias and simply attributed it to the fact that since we were in the arts and were all creative souls we couldn’t possibly have misogynists in our midst, could we?

    Unfortunately, I feel and see regular discrimination by men over the age of 55 (roughly) in positions of executive leadership in the arts towards women under the age of 40 (roughly). My personal suspicion is that these men were already sexists who now cleverly just mask it behind their “experience.” In a rapidly changing world, younger professionals are more likely to be savvy in new media, more open to new ideas and less likely to be the ones touting the regular death-knell for arts organizations “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it…” I have witnessed some shameful behavior from these men as they seek to put down the ideas of young women I have worked with in order to save face because they don’t understand how to be progressive business leaders in the arts. Funnily enough, when younger men at the table make suggestions for a “new direction” I don’t usually see them getting turned down.

    I’ve been in the performing arts my entire career. Starting in college I was in production and then moved on to do it professionally. I then moved into administration, completing a Masters in Arts Administration along the way. I have been an administrator for 7 years now in Marketing, Communications and Audience Development, that’s not including the years I spent as a stage manager, and still I am routinely treated as though I am inexperienced and couldn’t possibly be making rational decisions.

    So when you ask about career ambitions, it’s sad to say, but mine have now reversed. I am now downright eager to step back and take a demotion in order to not have to deal with the constant politicking I must do in order to have a voice at the table with the “big boys.” When I worked under a strong woman in a previous job in the arts i felt empowered and listened to. I felt creatively free and enjoyed the challenge of solving problems. Now, I’m a drone. It’s unfortunate because you do get to the point where you get argumentative and become the b—h that men so often accuse women of being.

    So long story short, now my family has to deal with me feeling sullen and defeated and frankly, I think they’d rather me bring home no money at all, than constantly bring home a bad mood. It’s not my husband’s resentment that’s affecting my home life, it’s my boss’.


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