Researcher Profile: Katie Genadek

MPC Dissemination/Outreach Director Katie Genadek

It seems counterintuitive that rising divorce rates, fewer children, and an increase in dual-income families would result in an increase in time couples spend together, and in time parents spend with children, but according to Minnesota Population Center researcher, Katie Genadek, this is exactly what the data are showing. Her goal: to determine why an increase in factors that seem to undermine quality family time could actually result in an increase in the time families spend together.

As Director of MPC data dissemination efforts at the MPC, Genadek develops programs in support of data dissemination, responds to users’ data queries, and provides local and national training workshops for MPC data. In addition, Genadek serves as co-principal investigator of the MPC’s National Historical Geographic Information System, the Common Online Data Analysis Platform, and the IPUMS-USA project, all while maintaining an active research agenda aimed at understanding time as a finite resource that individuals must carefully allocate between partnerships, parenthood, and participation in the labor force.

Early Work

If it sounds as if Genadek has a hand in every major effort at the MPC, it may very well be the case owing to her 13 years of experience as an MPC data user and her near decade-long tenure at the center. Genadek began using MPC data in 2003 and joined the institute as a graduate research assistant in 2007. At the time, Genadek was taking a course on time use data which piqued her interests in its complexity and its relatability; allowing her to look at broad, population-level patterns in how individuals allocate their time to meet conflicting demands. Yet despite the richness of time use data in providing insights into the experiences of working women of all socioeconomic backgrounds, Genadek’s arrival at the MPC coincided with discussions of discontinuing time use data collection. The resulting initiative to save the project meant not only an aggressive outreach campaign on behalf of IPUMS-ATUS, but a push for researchers to take a more active role in publishing studies that capitalized on the rich data it contained. Fortunately for the MPC, both have become cornerstones of Genadek’s professional contributions to the MPC.

Genadek’s early work focused on the relationship between no-fault divorce laws (divorce where proving fault is not required) and labor force participation among women with and without children. Existing theories about no-fault divorce suggested the new laws made women more likely to invest in their own economic viability (rather than their husbands’). No-fault divorce impacted women with children more than women without children. Genadek’s research showed that no-fault divorce (which makes divorce easier) provided mothers with more of an incentive to invest in themselves and the economic wellbeing of their children. This study of divorce, made easy by time use data, gave rise to other questions about the changing nature of marriage, from traditional economic partnership to one of equitable partnership.

Current Research Interests

Specifically, Genadek has combined her interests in the changing landscape of marriage with her expertise in time use. According to her more recent work, the primary influences of women’s labor force participation can be found at the confluence of work and family. “I think watching my friends enter and exit the labor market as they have made decisions about family formation and having children is fascinating. Empirically, uncovering what influences this complex, individual decision is a fun challenge.”

To meet this challenge, Genadek looks at the work-life balance that characterizes more modern dual-income families which often involves a fair amount of “baton passing” between moms and dads. Specifically, in a recent paper Genadek assessed whether the availability of a spouse for caregiving impacted the likelihood of a mother working outside the home. The paper looked at whether women are more likely to work outside the home when their partners finish work before 5:30 p.m., as compared to when their partners finished work after 5:30 p.m. Unsurprisingly, she found that a woman was significantly more likely to work when a partner was available to provide care for their children and that the effect was particularly pronounced for couples with children under six-years-old.

In addition, Genadek looks at the characteristics of marriages themselves. Do more equal marital partnerships, she asks, lead to couples spending more or less time together? In a recent paper with Sarah Flood, fellow MPC researcher and director of the IPUMS-ATUS, Genadek used time diaries to look at changes in the time couples have spent together over the past 50 years. Together, the researchers found that couples spend more time together today than they did in 1965. Moreover, despite decreases in the average number of children and increases in women’s labor force participation, parents report spending more time with children and their spouse than they did 50 years ago. Genadek hypothesizes that this could be due to changes in the structure of marriage: as partnerships move away from specialization (him at work, her at home), individuals may be choosing partners with whom they are interested in spending more time.

Looking Ahead

Using large data to uncover the complex evolution of marriages and partnerships over the past 50 years is daunting, but it does not dissuade Genadek from further creative applications of big data in examining time use trends and how they relate to grand-scale social changes. For example, according to Genadek, “I think the plateau in women’s labor force participation in the U.S. is surprising. It has really leveled off (or even gone down) since the early 2000s, despite more women than men earning degrees. I think the ‘why’ part of this could be investigated more, but these decisions are complex.” Genadek would like to unpack how work time and work schedules impact productivity. She says, “I would like to have a better idea of what people do at work. I think there is a lot to learn about how people spend their time while working; how does the timing of work or the timing of work activities impact productivity, and what implications does that have for policy?” In light of Sweden’s recent switch to a six-hour workday, more people may be looking forward to Genadek’s answers to those questions.