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The Balance Gap: Working Mothers and the Limits of the Law, Sarah Cote Hampson

Reviewed by Caitlyn Collins

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Why do laws and policies on the books not always translate as intended on the ground? Political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, lawyers, and policymakers alike grapple with this line of inquiry. There is consensus around a short answer: laws and policies do not operate in a cultural void. Instead, they intersect with prevailing cultural norms in complex ways. Understanding this interplay more clearly is key to designing laws and policies whose outcomes align more squarely with their stated goals. In The Balance Gap: Working Mothers and the Limits of the Law, Sarah Cote Hampson investigates how employed women understand and invoke (or decline to invoke) work-life balance laws and policies.

Two in three mothers today work outside the home, and they still complete the majority of childrearing and housekeeping. So supportive policies are crucial to help women reconcile employment with motherhood. Drawing on 48 in-depth interviews conducted in 2012–2013, Hampson compares the experiences of American mothers and mothers-to-be in two workplace settings—public universities and the military—to shed light on the gap between policy and the extent to which women feel the policies’ impacts in their daily lives.

Hampson found that the degree to which women were knowledgeable about their rights at work, a state that scholar

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