I was born in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, the second of five children. My father was an Army civil engineer and my mother stayed home with us. When I was six months old, we sailed to Germany aboard the USS Patch. We spent three years in Heidelberg and Stuttgart, where I reportedly spoke German before English (and learned all about the local pubs with my baby sitter while my parents and older brother toured Europe).
As an “Army Brat,” I attended nine schools between 1st and 12th grade, in (among other cities) West Point, NY; Alexandria, Norfolk, and Arlington, VA; Sea Isle City, NJ, and Ft. Lewis, WA. I finished 11th and 12th grade at Punahou School, a private high school in Honolulu, HI that always let in a few Army kids each year. Hawaii was a great place to be a teenager! I learned to surf, and danced Hawaiian, Tahitian, and Maori semi-professionally with other young haoles (non-Hawaiian Caucasians), mostly at local military bases. It was at Punahou that I learned to work hard. And, as an Army kid I learned to be independent and adaptable: by the time I was 25, I had moved 25 times.
My parents assumed all five of us would go to college, and indeed we did. I remember talking with my father about possible careers. At one point, I was going to be a stockbroker, at another point a mathematician, Neither of us even knew what a sociologist was at that point. My mother played an important role too, admonishing me to “have a career to fall back on” and to “always have your own money.” My parents now claim that they weren’t encouraging me to stay in school “that long.” Their life lessons worked well: each of us found our passion, working in professional careers we love.
My father suggested the University of California, Davis for college, because it was “safer” than that rowdy UC Berkeley down the road. But the anti-war, student, and women’s movements found even Davis. My early college years were very tumultuous and political times: Berkeley’s People’s Park, the Cambodian invasion, campus shutdowns, marches, sit-ins, protests against the Vietnam War, the student movement. I was a enthusiastic participant in the activist, boomer generation.
I was captivated by sociology when I first opened the introductory textbook in the spring of my first year. I was amazed at the insights sociology provided. I had always been interested in why people had the beliefs they did, and why people made the choices they did. When I realized there was an academic subject devoted to such questions, I was hooked.
I became entranced by the sociological imagination. I learned early on that there is no such thing as unfettered free will; rather, we exist in a world of “structured opportunities.” Powerful forces outside our control limit our individual choices. Social structure shapes our attitudes, and behaviors, as well as our access to opportunities.
I became aware of the women’s movement as I moved into my junior and senior years in college. There were no women’s courses in sociology, and few women professors. But UC Davis hired several women faculty during my time there, and I sought out their courses. One—Barbara Reskin—became a life-long friend and collaborator. Our book, Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women’s Inroads into Male Occupations, advances themes that have captured my imagination since that first Intro course.
As I began to think about career options, there weren’t many role models. At the time, nursing and teaching were the only fields where women were common. There were no female astronauts or Supreme Court judges; most doctors, lawyers, and judges were male. A career aptitude test suggested that I would be a good teacher, but also showed a lack of patience that excluded teaching below the junior college level. I had never considered graduate work, but my then-boyfriend had planned an academic career his entire life. I figured if he could do it, so could I. The women faculty at Davis were doing intriguing research on gender, and they encouraged me to believe that I too could thrive in academia. So off I went, continuing at UC Davis for my MA, and then to UCLA for my Ph.D.
My interest in gender inequality continued at UCLA, where I worked with Donald Treiman. Funded by his NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)-sponsored grant on comparative social mobility, I studied stratification, work, and social statistics, and wrote my dissertation on occupational sex segregation cross-culturally. The study of ascriptive inequalities became my life-long interest, just when such work became a major entrée point for women entering academic sociology in the post-1970 period.
While finishing up my graduate work at UCLA, I spent three years as a researcher at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, which enabled me to network with the best and the brightest in the social science community. In 1981, I moved to my first academic position at SUNY Stony Brook, where I was fortunate to encounter supportive senior faculty and a strong feminist community. I also met my husband; we moved as a dual-career couple to Rutgers in 1990.
Sociologists study people, and people are infinitely interesting and changing. Indeed, my work has often reflected the progression of my own life and career. The central theme that ties together most of my work is how inequality is produced and reproduced. As I moved into academic sociology, I became interested in the factors associated with women’s inroads into traditionally male jobs. Barbara Reskin and I examined why some jobs feminized during the important post-1970 period while others did not. After becoming a wife and mother, I became interested in work-family issues. I have long questioned the popular assumption that women face a zero-sum “choice” to either work or mother. Women, even those with young children, have long chosen both. More recently I’ve begun to examine race, class, and gender differences in work-family behavior and attitudes.
As I hit several barriers in my own academic career, I became intrigued with how subtle sex biases reproduce gender inequality in academia. Although overt barriers to mobility have declined, nonconscious beliefs and attitudes still operate to limit women’s advancement, through workplace interactions and through subjective policies and procedures institutionalized into the academic workplace. My research has demonstrated how inequality in academia often reproduces in quite subtle ways.
I have always had a passion for my work, which I try to convey to my students. I also try to convey that sense of passion to my son, who is just now beginning his own journey toward a career. Being passionate about what one does in life is a good step toward a well-rounded, satisfying life.