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Opting into Work-Family Policies: Comparing the Effects of Material and Cultural Concerns

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Principal Investigator(s):

David Pedulla
Stanford University
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Sarah Thébaud
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Sample size: 2036
Field period: 05/08/2016-07/21/2016


Existing scholarship suggests that changes in workplaces, such as the implementation of supportive work-family policies, may lead to greater gender equality at work and at home. In practice, however, the utilization of work-family policies is highly variable across organizations and is highly gendered, with women being more likely to use such policies. This experiment enables us to examine the underlying mechanisms that drive variation in work-family policy use by gender as well as other key social and economic markers. Specifically, we aim to disentangle the effects of the material aspects of a policy (e.g., the wage replacement rate) from the cultural aspects of a policy (e.g., the informal organizational norms regarding policy use) in shaping workers’ intentions to use such policies. The experiment examines two common work-family policies: parental leave and flexible work arrangements. While all respondents are asked about their likelihood of using these two policies, the material and cultural/informal dimensions of the policies are experimentally manipulated. We also collect information about how respondents think others would respond to their use of each policy, enabling us to examine whether concerns about “ideal worker” and gender norm violations mediate the effects of the material and cultural manipulations.

Hypothesis/Research Questions:

What explains individual-level variation in the utilization of supportive work-family policies?

And, more specifically, what underlying mechanisms drive gender differences in the use of these policy interventions?

Experimental manipulation(s):

Respondents were each presented with two policy prompts: one about a parental leave policy and one about a flexible work arrangement policy. Within each policy, we manipulated: 1) the material attributes of the policy along one axis (e.g., wage replacement rate of the parental leave policy), and 2) the cultural/informal attributes of the policy along the other axis (e.g., the uptake rate of the policy).

Outcome Variables:

Respondents’ likelihood of using the policy.

Whether the following would be a concern for the respondent if the policy were used: 1) perceptions of competence by others in one’s organization, 2) perceptions of commitment by others in one’s organization, 3) financial security, 4) relationships with co-workers, customers, and clients.

How others in the organization would perceive the respondent in terms of masculinity and femininity if they were to use the policy.

Summary of Findings:

We find evidence that women are more likely than men to utilize the parental leave policy, but that there are limited gender differences in the use of flexible work arrangements. For the parental leave policy, there is a positive effect of increasing the wage replacement rate on the likelihood of policy use. Relatedly, among the flexible work arrangements, respondents are more likely to utilize the flexible scheduling policy (where there will be no effect on their earnings) than the job sharing program (where their earnings would be affected). In general, respondents appear to be less likely to use both policies if there are potential promotion penalties. There are less consistent effects of the policy uptake rate manipulation on respondents’ use likelihood.



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