Sample Women and Gender Studies Paper on RESEARCH PROPOSAL ON WOMEN AND GENDER Social Work Association of America

RESEARCH PROPOSAL ON WOMEN AND GENDER Social Work Association of America


What is it like to be a mother? What are the traditional roles of women in the family? Are girls’ expectations consistent with the institution of family vastly different from those outlined two centuries ago? Or do women now have the ability to direct their own lives in terms of family, education, and career? The family was defined in 1945 as “a group of persons united by the ties of marriage, blood, or adoption; interacting and communicating with each other in their respective roles.[1]

This study will look at the difficulties that mothers face while juggling the roles of caregiver and student. The study will look specifically at the challenges that women face as they take on the responsibility of caring for their young child or children while also attending a university as a graduate student. Marriage, family, and child rearing come with a lot of responsibility, which can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining for both men and women. Women, on the other hand, appear to bear the burden more frequently than men, and society continues to support unrealistic expectations of motherhood and caregiving. Women are confronted with society’s expectations of femininity, forcing them to choose between two perspectives:

  1. The “superwoman,” the good wife and/or mother who can also achieve educational and professional success.
  2. The “satisfied single” – a woman (either lesbian or heterosexual and usually employed) who is content to be single.[2] As a result, even in an era of increasingly liberal attitudes, women are still culturally stereotyped by themes such as the good girl/bad girl or virgin/whore. How deeply are these stereotypes ingrained in society’s attitudes and beliefs? On the one hand, women have gone into space as astronauts, while on the other, women allow themselves to be objectified in music videos and reality television shows. Men continue to have a different experience in our society than women.


As an exploratory study, this project will look into the conflicting roles of motherhood and education. The research will focus on the various challenges that women face when attempting to parent while also enrolled in and participating in a graduate program at an accredited university. As stated in Section 1.05, Cultural Competency, of the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics (2008), it is critical that social workers understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to all demographics. This study will contribute to the body of knowledge about social oppression among mothers who are also pursuing higher education, as well as allow participants to reflect on their own experiences.

The study’s goal is to investigate the barriers that many women face when dealing with role conflict caused by two competing social role commitments.


Research Questions

The following research question will be investigated in this study: What difficulties do women face when they take on multiple demanding social roles? What obstacles do women face when balancing motherhood and education (i.e., graduate school)?



This review of the literature is divided into four sections. The first section examines the evolution of women’s rights in policy and education. The second section discusses various aspects of motherhood and family life. The third section delves into gender stereotypes and roles. The fourth section examines the current role of women in education. The final section of the review identifies the gaps discovered during the literature review process.

History of Women’s Rights in Policy and Education

In 1866, Emily Davies published Higher Education of Women, in which she defined the goal for women as being the best wife and mother possible, and any education that was not central to these goals was deemed unnecessary.[3] She believed that women should not become better mothers or wives by ignoring other responsibilities outside the home.

Maternity is a woman’s natural biological role and has traditionally been regarded as her primary social role. [4]Today, contraception and, in some areas, legalized abortion have given women more control over their bodies and childbirth decisions.

Despite the fact that these advancements have liberated women from roles other than motherhood, the cultural pressure on women to become wives and mothers still prevents many talented women from completing college or pursuing careers.

This trend has been changing recently. Tests conducted in the 1960s revealed that girls’ scholastic achievement was higher in the early grades than in high school. The main reason given was that the girls’ own expectations had fallen because neither their families nor their teachers expected them to plan for anything other than marriage and motherhood.[5]


Obstacles in Motherhood and Family

Literature depicts the challenges that women face as mothers in the private sphere, which may dissuade them from participating in the public sphere. It is suggested that these difficulties stem from the family and the home, as well as from women’s primary role as child bearer and caregiver. The point that resonates deeply is that the difficulties women face when attempting to balance dual social roles are frequently compounded by guilt when women sacrifice family time to meet educational demands.[6]

Stalker eventually proposed that academic institutions work to incorporate motherhood into the fabric of being an academic mother.  Theoretically, this is accomplished by embracing perceived oppositions rather than being regulated and even paralyzed by them.[7]

“Women live a life divided between two competing systems, two clashing rhythms of living, that of family and that of the workplace.” Women have been influenced by the revolution faster than men. The inequity of this revolution has created a schism between husbands and wives.’ [8]

                                             Gender and Social Roles

A review of the literature on academic mothers reveals some recurring and familiar patterns. Academic mothers, who balance education and motherhood, are living in two separate and conflicting worlds, according to one major trend.[9] Stockdell-Giesler and Ingalls discovered in a study of 22 tenure track mothers that balancing professional responsibilities with child care is exhausting and overwhelming even in the best of circumstances. According to one mother, “each role consumes enormous psychological, intellectual, and emotional energy”

Mothers who are students in college are in a unique position as parents because they frequently share the important and demanding social role of a student with their own school-age children. This population’s research has primarily focused on psychological stress caused by conflicts between student, family, and work roles, as well as identifying stress antecedents as well as the effect of role conflict on academic performance.

A 2009 study at Southwestern University looked at mothers’ reasons for going to college and the effects on conflict. The overall finding of this study is that when mothers are students and have a child who is also a student, some positive results can be found.

In 2008 a study was conducted to examine college students’ perceptions of other students who returned to school after having a child. Undergraduate students at a four-year university were asked to rate their perceptions of a mother who returned to school after having a child and another student who dropped out after having a child. The 205 participants rated the women who chose to return to school as less feminine and more dominant, arrogant, and cold-hearted than the other mothers who did not return to school.

Women’s Role in Education

Decades of research have documented the challenges that adult learners face when attempting to participate in educational activities in a variety of settings.[10] The topic primarily covered in that literature described the tension women experience between the public sphere of formal, institutionalized education and their roles in the private sphere of home and relationships.[11] According to research, women are pulled in very different directions by the two “greedy institutions” of the family and education . Work and higher education have both been described as institutions that require a person’s undivided attention. Furthermore, qualities associated with higher education, such as competitiveness and individual achievement, are contradictory and deemed inappropriate for family success.

The American Sociological Association and the American Association of Colleges and Universities have focused on work and family issues.  Furthermore, the Chronicle of Higher Education is paying more attention to women’s work and family concerns.[12] Clearly, this demonstrates that work and family concerns are on the minds of today’s higher education students.

Gaps in Literature

In the educational and psychological literature, the experiences of female college students who are raising children while pursuing higher education have received little attention. To begin, the concepts of sexism, power dynamics, and patriarchy are typically only alluded to as explanations for women’s experiences. Second, studies that do engage in theoretical analysis tend to take well-trodden intellectual paths. These flaws would be less concerning if barriers to women’s participation were removed. Although women are now more prevalent in most academic settings, there is an international trend in which women are distributed unequally across faculties, qualifications, and hierarchies.[13] The majority of the literature on women’s multiple social roles has focused on women in the labor force. This was a flaw because the majority of the research had to be about mothers pursuing higher education. Because this topic has not been thoroughly researched, women’s experiences still require an outlet.







Study Population

To participate in the study, subjects had to meet certain qualifications. The women who took part were all mothers with children aged six or younger. It was permissible for participants to have more than one child as long as one child was six or younger. In addition to being a mother, the subject had to be a current graduate student at a university. The program’s only defining requirement was that it be of graduate level work, focusing on attainment of higher education. The structured interview focused on each participant’s experience as a mother and student.

Sample Plan

This study was conducted by interviewing women students at various California universities. In this research study, the snowball sampling method was used. The sample size was 15 women who were interviewed and agreed to participate in the study. Snowball sampling, is frequently used in conjunction with exploratory studies. When the researcher asks subjects to refer additional potential subjects to participate in the research study, snowball sampling expands the subject pool. The benefits of this sampling method include a sense of uniformity, as all participants have similar qualifying characteristics, and cohesion among participants as they are involved in the referral process. It was critical to have a sample with similar experiences but also enough variety to compare and contrast experiences, which increased the study’s validity. The study’s participation was entirely voluntary. All of the women were approached directly and asked to participate in the study; they agreed to participate and signed informed consent.

                                                             Data Collection

The researcher asked fellow CSUS students she knew if they could recommend any other students in a graduate program who were mothers who might be interested in participating in this study. Mothers who wanted to participate gave their contact information to the original participants, who passed it on to the researcher. The researcher contacted the women and confirmed their interest in participating in this study; if they did not wish to participate, the researcher thanked them for their time and made no further contact. If they expressed an interest, the researcher emailed them an informed consent attachment to review and sign before participating in the interview. The participants were interviewed in a private and convenient location for them. The informed consent form was reviewed and signed before the interview began. The participants were given the option to refuse audio recording; however, none of the participants chose to refuse recording the interview. The interviews lasted between 30 and 35 minutes, and participants were thanked for their time and given the option of receiving a summary of the research findings at the end of each one.

Data was collected in interviews using standardized open-ended questions, and responses were recorded. Each interview lasted 30 to 45 minutes. The interviews were held at a convenient time and location for the participants. All interview locations were private and pre-agreed upon prior to the interview. Prior to data collection, a standardized list of questions was created to address the possibility of compromising internal validity due to instrumentation changes. Twenty-eight questions were created in order to elicit unique responses from each participant when addressing the same subjects as found in all of these interviews. The questionnaire was required to ensure consistency and uniformity in all interviews. Uniformity is important during the interviewing process because standardized questionnaires ensure consistency of topics covered and reduce the interjection of interviewer bias. The arrangement of questions and responses made it possible for content analysis to become more standard. The use of a standard, pre-planned interview provided each participant with the same opportunity to answer questions and express their feelings on each topic.

One disadvantage of the traditional open-ended interview is that it can disrupt the natural flow of conversation by relying on predetermined questions. To counteract this, the interviews included follow-up questions aimed at eliciting information about the original topic. The follow-up questions also allowed the researcher to be more flexible in pursuing topics in greater depth with individual participants who had more experience in different aspects of the research.

The benefits of open-ended questions are that they allow respondents to express their responses in their own words and in as much detail as they want. Open-ended questions allow for complex responses as well as the use of self-selected vocabulary. Throughout the interviews, open-ended questions can elicit a variety of responses from each participant. Disadvantages of open-ended questions include differences in participants’ ability to articulate thoughts, long responses that can be time-consuming to transcribe and code, open-ended responses that can deviate from the topic, and answers that differ greatly from one another and may be difficult to compare and develop common themes based on.[14] The interview process is similar to that of a social relationship, and it necessitates adherence to social norms and expectations. When conducting face-to-face interviews, the researcher must adhere to strict guidelines.



Data Analysis

Following the completion of all interviews, the recordings were transcribed into word documents and printed. Following that, the data was reviewed and analyzed for content, themes, differences, concepts, and connections. In order to effectively process material, the researcher reviewed interview transcripts three times. The first review was used to identify relevant passages in the m that represented themes in the material. The second role of the reviewer was to highlight keywords for each theme. Finally, the researcher went over the data again, this time focusing on highlighted passages in order to use latent content analysis to determine underlying meanings within each theme.

Protection of Human Subjects

A Request for Review was sent to the Division of Social Work Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, as required. Following its review, the committee designated the study as “Minimal Risk.” Before receiving approval, no subjects were contacted or data was collected.

All subjects’ participation was entirely voluntary, and they were all made aware of this fact. They were also told that they could refuse to answer any question and that they could end the interview at any time. Throughout the study, subjects were referred to by a “pseudo” name. The information gleaned from the interviews was kept strictly confidential. As soon as the interviews were transcribed, the recordings were erased. All printouts of the interviews were kept in a locked cabinet at the researcher’s home and were destroyed once the analysis was completed. In the informed consent, participants were informed about the study process and confidentiality. All participants read and signed the consent to participate in research form (informed consent), which was kept in a locked cabinet and destroyed when the research study was finished.                                                               



This study sought to answer the question, “What challenges do women face when taking on multiple demanding social roles?” What obstacles do women face when balancing motherhood and education (i.e., graduate school)? The answer is not exact; the results were discovered to be complex and diverse based on the varied experiences of the mothers who participated in this study. The findings of this study differ from those described in Joyce Stalker’s research. Women are the product of a misogynistic culture that has only changed on the surface over time, and the paradigm of male-dominated roles remains strongly present in barriers affecting women’s ability to achieve equality. [15]

According to this study, being a mother and a student can be done at the same time. Providing unconditional love, the child’s relationship with the father, the availability of affordable, quality child care, economic status, and how the woman internalized or externalized blame are all important factors associated with the decisions participants made when deciding to begin or complete a graduate program with young children. The women’s experiences in this study appeared to reflect how women in specific situations deal with demanding social roles and responsibilities, such as motherhood and higher education.  The women’s shared experiences suggested that, while balancing graduate level work with the demanding responsibilities of motherhood is difficult, the commonality among the women was that, despite various obstacles, being a mother and a student is possible and even rewarding.

The sample size of this study is limited to fifteen mothers enrolled in graduate programs at accredited universities. The small sample size may favor participants who find it easier to talk about their motherhood and educational experiences. The constraints imposed on the recruitment process to mothers and full-time graduate students with a child six years old or younger meant that a random sample would have been impossible. The final sample, however, included participants from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, children’s ages, and cohabitation arrangements with the biological father.

Several themes emerged from the various responses provided by participants, illustrating their experiences as mothers involved in higher education programs. In summary, the study relied on qualitative research, including in-depth, open-ended interviews. Conclusions cannot be generalized beyond the sample size used in this research study. Some of the study’s limitations are acknowledged, such as the small sample size of 15 participants with specific qualifying characteristics.

The findings of this study, which combined interrelated themes from fifteen mothers enrolled in a graduate program, added to the body of knowledge on role strain and mothers balancing conflicting social roles. According to the study’s findings, universities must raise awareness and consideration of the various circumstances highlighted by the participants’ lived experiences in order to better address childcare and financial issues of mothers in higher education programs.  The current study’s findings indicate that, while many social barriers have been removed in the academic institution, women who return to school (i.e., graduate programs) within the first six years of their children’s lives require additional support from universities and, more specifically, individual academic programs to ensure success in the pursuit of higher education.



Burgess, E., & Locke, H. (1945). Family Allowances for Children. Marriage and Family Living7(1), 12.

Davies, E. (2006). The higher education of women.

Lamanna, M., Riedmann, A., & Stewart, S. (2000). Marriages, families, and relationships.

Pillay, V. (2009). Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason. Gender and Education21(5), 501-515.

Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. R. (2008). Research methods for social work (3rd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Stalker, J. (2001). Misogyny, Women, and Obstacles to Tertiary Education: A Vile Situation. Adult Education Quarterly51(4), 288-305.

Stockdell-Giesler, A., & Ingalls, R. (2007). Faculty mothers. Academe, 93(4), 38-40.

Weiss, J. (2000). To have and to hold: Marriage, the baby boom and social change. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Wilson, R. (2009). Confronting gender bias, playfully. Chronicle of Higher Education, 56(12), A6.

[1] Burgess, E., & Locke, H. (1945). Family Allowances for Children. Marriage And Family Living7(1), 12.

[2] Lamanna, M., Riedmann, A., & Stewart, S. (2000). Marriages, families, and relationships.

[3] Davies, E. (2006). The higher education of women.

[4] Weiss, J. (2000). To have and to hold: Marriage, the baby boom and social change. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

[6] Stalker, J. (2001). Misogyny, Women, and Obstacles to Tertiary Education: A Vile Situation. Adult Education Quarterly51(4), 288-305.

[7] Pillay, V. (2009). Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason. Gender and Education21(5), 501-515.

[9] Stockdell-Giesler, A., & Ingalls, R. (2007). Faculty mothers. Academe, 93(4), 38-40.

[10] Pillay, V. (2009). Academic mothers finding rhyme and reason. Gender and Education21(5), 501-515.

[11] Stalker, J. (2001). Misogyny, Women, and Obstacles to Tertiary Education: A Vile Situation. Adult Education Quarterly51(4), 288-305.

[12] Wilson, R. (2009). Confronting gender bias, playfully. Chronicle of Higher Education, 56(12), A6.

[14] Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. R. (2008). Research methods for social work (3rd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

[15] Stalker, J. (2001). Misogyny, Women, and Obstacles to Tertiary Education: A Vile Situation. Adult Education Quarterly51(4), 288-305.