The XX Factor

Work-Life Balance: Women at All Income Levels Are Miserable

As Heather Boushey and Joan C. Williams put it in their new report, ” The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict ” [PDF], this issue is “remarkably democratic.” Women from all three levels of income-categorized by Boushey and Williams as professionals (median family income of $148,000 a year), the “missing middle” (median family income of $64,000 a year), and the poor (median family income of $19,000 a year)-are unhappy about the number of hours they’re working and the lack of flexibility in their professional lives.

Everything is the worst for the poor-they have jobs with the least flexibility and their financial status can be completely derailed by a sick child or elderly parent. Boushey and Williams open their report with a truly awful story of McDonald’s cashier Kim Braithwaite, whose baby sitter was late one night. Braithwaite knew that if she were tardy to her job, she would lose it. So she left her two children, ages 9 and 1, at home, assuming the babysitter would show up shortly after she left. Instead, a fire broke out in Braithwaite’s apartment building, killing both her children.

Of course Braithwaite’s story is an extreme example. But the systemic issues behind her tragedy are spread across all classes. Lisa Belkin says, in her post about the study on the New York Times blog Motherlode , “[I]t is no more or less important for professional parents to feel secure about who takes care of their children while they work as it is for poor parents.” Boushey and Williams offer up concrete policy suggestions for the government and corporations in four areas, Belkin notes: workplace flexibility; short-term, episodic, and extended time off; child care, after-school care, and adult care; and addressing family-responsibilities discrimination. Since today is a snow day for many school-age kids, issues of emergency child care are particularly on the minds of many parents today. How are you coping? And what about your particular situation could be improved?