I slept in on Friday (thanks to my superhero husband – love you, honey!), so sidled into my office un-showered around 9:30am. Before I had even logged onto my computer, my boss appeared in my doorway and asked if I would join him for a coffee. He said he was concerned about my work hours recently so wanted to step out of the office so we could talk. Busted!
Instead of chastising me for coming in late, however, my boss expressed concern that I had stayed until 6pm the day before to finish drafting some advice he’d asked for. He was right, he had told me it could wait, but I was “in the zone” and my husband reported that he had things under control at home, so I figured I’d work a bit longer to finish the assignment before leaving. Besides, I was collaborating with my colleague and she’d stayed even later to review my draft. My boss said he was worried I would burn out, and that I should not compare myself to co-workers “in different situations” (read, without kids). I assured him that, while I appreciate him looking out for me, I believe I have the best work/life balance of anyone I know and am not anywhere near burning out.
To the contrary, I fear I may be stagnating. Two new studies suggest that the persistence of the gender gap in earnings may be due in part to the fact that working longer hours may lead to higher pay. The first study, by Dora Gicheva, finds that for workers putting in more than 47 hours per week, each additional five hours on the job accounts for a 1% increase in annual wage. This research also found that the wages of young professional men grow an average of 2.2% a year faster than the wages of their female counterparts, and attributes this growth to the finding that, of those working at least 47 hours per week, men tend to work 6 hours more a week than women.
A similar study, by Youngjoo Cha and Kim Weeden, found that in recent years, those who work 50 or more hours per week earn an average of 6% more per hour than their 40-hour-a-week counterparts. They also found that, for the past thirty years, men have consistently worked more hours, on average, than women, with professional men twice as likely to “overwork” (work >50 hours per week) and male managers three times as likely to overwork as women in the same positions.
Cha and Weeden acknowledge that the American cultural norm of “intensive mothering” makes it harder for women to work long hours, especially since those in professional or managerial positions tend to have overworking spouses. More hours in the office does not translate into fewer obligations at home for most women, so there is a natural ceiling on the number of hours a mother can work.
I am not saying that mothers leave work earlier than fathers because it’s more important to moms to maximize time with their children. Data from the Pew Research Center suggests that many more father complain they are not spending enough time with their children than mothers (46% vs. 23%). But the fact is that fathers devote significantly less time than mothers to child care (an average of seven hours per week for fathers, compared with 14 hours per week for mothers). This disparity may be due in part to persistent social norms that reward men for commitment to their jobs and women for devotion to their families.
My boss is consistently encouraging me to go home to my son, which I really appreciate, but I have never heard him say the same to my male colleagues who have small kids at home. This benevolent discrimination allows me to spend more time with my family, but may dampen my long term professional prospects. As I have written before, being a young woman professional is hard enough, and being a mom makes it harder but even more important to prove that I am capable and committed. I feel constant pressure to demonstrate that my job – although it will never take precedence over my family – is still a priority for me. These new studies make me even more determined to make the most of my (limited) time in the office.