Cover of The Balance Gap by Sarah Cote Hampson
The Balance Gap
Working Mothers and the Limits of the Law
Sarah Cote Hampson


184 pages.
from $25.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503600058
Paperback ISBN: 9781503602151
Ebook ISBN: 9781503602175

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In recent decades, laws and workplace policies have emerged that seek to address the "balance" between work and family. Millions of women in the U.S. take some time off when they give birth or adopt a child, making use of "family-friendly" laws and policies in order to spend time recuperating and to initiate a bond with their children.

The Balance Gap traces the paths individual women take in understanding and invoking work/life balance laws and policies. Conducting in-depth interviews with women in two distinctive workplace settings—public universities and the U.S. military—Sarah Cote Hampson uncovers how women navigate the laws and the unspoken cultures of their institutions. Activists and policymakers hope that family-friendly law and policy changes will not only increase women's participation in the workplace, but also help women experience greater workplace equality. As Hampson shows, however, these policies and women's abilities to understand and utilize them have fallen short of fully alleviating the tensions that women across the nation are still grappling with as they try to reconcile their work and family responsibilities.

About the author

Sarah Cote Hampson is Assistant Professor of Public Law at the University of Washington Tacoma.

"Elegantly written and timely, The Balance Gap highlights how family leave policies seeking 'work-life balance' often ignore the institutional rules, gendered norms, organizational status, and hierarchies that collide with heightened expectations of – and for – mothers in the workplace. A rigorous call to action in transforming how we view the ideal mother, and the ideal worker."

—Renee Ann Cramer, Drake University

"A valuable read for scholars and activists alike, The Balance Gap integrates empirical evidence and legal theory in an admirably readable manner. Hampson drives beyond policy to the reality of working mothers' lives, challenging the deep tension between the notion of work/life balance and the enduring fetishization of the 'ideal worker' as a human machine who produces regardless of the cost."

—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton University

"The Balance Gap offers an important analysis of why all workplaces are not the same even if they follow the same family friendly policies. By contrasting the university with the military, we see how social and environmental context are having as much or more effect on a woman's likelihood to take advantage of their policy rights as the policies themselves."

—Mary Ann Mason, UC Berkeley

"Hampson has written a smart and thoughtful book, based on research in "understudied" environments."

—Cynthia Harrison, Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy