W1167: The Changing Landscape of Women in America: Understanding Work, Family, and Personal Issues
Statement of Issues and JustificationNeed by Stakeholders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2003; 2004), women comprised 49% of the U.S. workforce in 2003. Among these working women are three critical but under-studied sub-populations: female ranchers and farmers, female professionals, and female immigrants. Since the late 1970s, all three of these groups have increased in size and importance. The percentage of all farmers who are women more than doubled in the last 25 years, rising from 5% in 1978 to over 11% in 2002 (National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2002). Around 55% of all professional workers are female in the United States, up from 44% in 1970 (U.S. Department of Labor, 2003). Finally, in 2001, 55% of the more than 1 million immigrants admitted to the United States were female (Office of Immigration Statistics, 2001).
These groups are playing increasingly vital economic roles in their communities. Yet, lacking role models and social blueprints, each group must forge unique pathways toward work, family, and personal fulfillment. (See the detailed descriptions in the literature review section that provides the impetus for studying these groups.) Among the few sources of information and guidance available to such groups are popular and local media (Covert, 2003). In relying on such media for guidance, however, working women often confront stereotypical portrayals of women (Wood, 2002). For example, portrayals of women comes from magazines, which sometimes address topics such as work and finances, but most often focus on physical appearance, weight loss, cooking, and personal relationships. Indeed, in a content analysis of mainstream magazines, Covert (2003) reported that there are few magazines for working women from which to choose. As such, most working women must rely on general-interest women's magazines for information about work and family, the content of which often perpetuates traditional gender roles and norms. In addition, local radio and television programming and the explosion of the Internet have also become sources of information. These sources, however, have not been studied to the extent of magazines and other print media.
Statement of the Problem and Purpose. Despite substantial research on the gendered content of certain media, few studies have undertaken an in-depth look at specific groups of women and their use of media materials for guidance in work and non-work life. In other words, it is simply unknown whether the messages embedded in popular and local media (e.g. magazines, radio, Internet, etc.) are applicable or helpful to the three sub-populations of interest. The purpose of the proposed research is to:
*Identify the questions, challenges, and needs of these three target populations related to work, family and personal lives
*Determine the media messages that they receive in the areas of work, family, and healthy lifestyles
*Assess the extent to which these messages help or hurt in the struggle to achieve healthy work, family, and personal lives.
Importance of Proposed Project. For most people, pursuing healthy work, family, and personal lives can be a challenge. Borrowing from the field of positive psychology, the technical team defines "healthiness" as the extent to which people are able to flourish, or achieve happiness, well-being, healthy relationships, and satisfying work lives (Keyes & Haidt, 2003). To achieve such flourishing, many people seek guidance from family members, friends, and sometimes professionals. What distinguishes the sub-populations of interest to us here, however, is that they are forging new pathways toward economic, family and personal fulfillment. Female ranchers and farmers, professionals, and immigrants may find themselves in new economic roles, new household structures, and even new communities. Lacking family and friends that have experienced such roles, and being underserved in programming and services, these women must seek out alternative sources of information and guidance.
The media is one such resource. Indeed, it may be among the only sources of information and advice on meeting the challenges that arise in the struggle to flourish in everyday life. Yet researchers do not know how effective the media is in addressing the needs and issues of these groups. By identifying the issues of these target groups and assessing the extent to which the media addresses these issues, the proposed research will be of benefit not only to these women, but also the diverse workplaces, families, and communities to which they so actively contribute.
Technical Feasibility. Together, many participants in this group of researchers have studied issues of work and family life for a number of years. As such, the group has a very effective working relationship and network in place to pursue collaborative research. This group of family therapy, business, child development, and family studies experts will provide a multidisciplinary consideration of the issues critical to this project. Further, the group has already collaborated in conducting a pilot project to develop a common instrument for evaluating the messages embedded in popular media (Zvonkovic, Bryant, Mannon & Bailey, 2004). Several new participants have been added to this project with expertise in media programming and Extension, as well as specific content related to work and family lives. Given the considerable experience in working with communities (e.g. family farmers, Spanish speaking immigrants, professionals, and blue collar workers), this group of researchers is ideally positioned to access target populations, study their needs, and apply the findings of this project to assist target populations.
Advantages of a Multi-State Effort. Addressing an issue as multifaceted as work, family, and personal flourishing of three distinct and complex sub-populations requires an interdisciplinary research team. The technical committee includes a family relationships scholar, a marriage and family therapist, an organizational behavior specialist, and Extension service specialists. In addition, the committee consists of professionals with expertise in studying immigrant communities (Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming), female farmers (Montana, Wyoming), and professional women (New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota, Florida). The research team also has methodological skills in conducting focus groups, performing content analysis, and undertaking research among Spanish-speaking populations.
A second advantage of a multi-state project is that the target populations reside throughout these states. A multi-state effort allows us to conduct research on these dispersed groups to serve the needs of important communities, as well as explore geographical differences. Perhaps most importantly, a multi-state research project enables us to pool the data and efforts to more effectively communicate with the media and make information more applicable and helpful to the women of interest in this project.
Impacts. The most critical potential impact is to make the information that reaches the target groups more relevant and helpful in their efforts to flourish in work, family, and personal life. To do this, the researchers need to determine the issues and questions these women seek answers to when turning to the media, and effectively communicate these issues and questions to editors. The technical team has chosen to focus on the media not only because it is an important source of information for these women, but also because it is a place where the team can effectively intervene to better meet the needs of these women. By focusing on the media, the technical team can help the media, Extension, and others focus on the stated issues that confront the target populations. The team can also help the target groups themselves by ensuring that more applicable information reach them.
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