UT researcher finds American women balance work, life differently than European counterparts

Mikaela Cannizzo

The American government offers less support to women than in European countries, according to a recent study of working mothers in four countries. 

Caitlyn Collins, doctoral sociology student and a graduate fellow in the Urban Ethnography Lab, said she interviewed 135 women balancing employment and child-rearing for her dissertation. According to Collins, she became interested in work-life balance for Western women while living abroad in Germany. 

Through her investigation of the dual responsibilities working mothers experience, Collins said she found a vital difference between women interviewed in the U.S. and those interviewed in Germany, Italy and Sweden.

Although more exhausted and stressed than their European counterparts, women in the U.S. rarely suggested the government should provide them with critical support, according to Collins.

Collins said this pattern reflects the cultural view of families as private responsibilities in the U.S. and the “neo-liberal welfare state,” as dubbed by sociologists.

However, the study found German women experience different circumstances within their welfare system. In Germany, the taboo of mothers returning to their
careers before completing the optional three years of paid maternity leave makes them a target for criticism, according to the study.

Swedish mothers reported the highest levels of support from the state in regards to work-life balance, according the study. However, the study found Swedish mothers felt more progress needs to be made to reach full gender equality. 

The study said Italian mothers felt the least supported as mothers and workers because of a lack of job security and childcare resources.

In the process of conducting her research, Collins spent the past five summers traveling, collaborating with scholars and interviewing sources for the study. Often, she said she visited women at their houses or apartments and met their children and colleagues.

In January, Collins submitted her paper to the American Sociological Association 110th Annual Meeting, Collins said. Out of 90 submissions, the association chose her to serve with five others on a panel at their annual conference in Chicago, according to Collins.

As she finishes her last year in the PhD program, Collins said she plans to write a book based on her research from this study.

This article has been corrected since its original publication. Collins found that the American government offers less support to women than in European countries, not that American women rely on less support. She also found that U.S. women rarely suggested the government provide them with support, not that they never suggested it, as previously stated.