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Mary Ann Mason

. . . Dean of the Graduate Division, University of California, Berkeley, historian and lawyer. Dr. Mason is also professor of law and social welfare at UC, Berkeley. In addition to her law degree, she earned a PhD in American social history. Her scholarly work on the family includes From Father’s Property to Children’s Rights and The Equality Trap.  She is editor and contributor to All Our Families: New Policies for a New Century with the Berkeley Family Forum.

Excerpts3:55 secs

 The entrance of women, especially mothers, into the workplace has been the most important change in American society in the last 30 years, according to Mary Ann Mason, a social historian, lawyer, professor of law and social welfare and Dean of the Graduate Division at the University of California, Berkeley. Ironically, Dr. Mason says, almost at the moment when women entered the workplace, the number of hours people were required to spend at the workplace revved up . So Americans, she believes, are working against themselves in trying to balance family and work life.

In addition to her own scholarship, legal work and experience within the discipline of social welfare, Dr. Mason has participated for more than ten years as part of the Berkeley Family Forum.  These academics have given themselves the mandate to go beyond the study of large issues to find solutions. Dr. Mason says that we know what it takes to right the imbalance between work and family. Two things. A flexible work schedule and child care. Period. Not many universities but some law firms and corporations actually make this work, she says. She applauds organizations that make it possible for women with children to continue working throughout their lives, with fewer hours in some years before returning to a faster track, while lamenting that they are the exceptions.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, Dr. Mason is particularly concerned about families at the bottom end, where wages are actually going down, because there are no public voices speaking out on their behalf. Since middle class mothers now have to work as well as take care of their children, America now insists that poor women, including single mothers, do the same, but fail to provide access to the many additional resources available for affluent families. But in both cases, America hasn’t really thought out what all the overly long hours at the work place mean for women and men, for children or for the society as a whole, Dr. Mason says. The result? A general declines in America’s every day quality of life.

While Dr. Mason remembers the great excitement and unresolved internal conflicts of her own generation, when young women could be in the world in a serious way for the first time in history, she’s now focused on the current generation. Like their mothers, they have not figured out how to put family and work together either.

The good news is that for all of the ways in which the very idea of family is changing, from step-families and single parent households to gay and lesbian parenting, Dr. Mason is confident that the institution itself -- humanity’s fundamental social unit -- is still vibrant in America. So now it’s time for policies which restore a balance between family and work and honor the vital role the family plays for all of humankind.

[This Program was recorded October 6, 2003, in Oakland, California, US.]

Conversation 1

Mary Ann Mason reports to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell that the American family unit is fundamentally healthy, but challenged by dramatic and accelerating changes.  Dr. Mason provides the historical context.

Conversation 1 RealAudio7:18 secs

Conversation 2

The law is transforming our families, Dr. Mason, Esq. says.  Step-families now affect 1 of 11 American children, she says, yet step-parents have the status of “legal stranger.” She considers how step-parenting affects a surprising variety of women and children, particularly as biology no longer entirely defines “family.” She expands, noting how central the family continues to be for all humans, then considers issues surrounding the availability of resources to children in industrialized and developing countries.

Conversation 1 RealAudio9:40 secs

Conversation 3

The excitement of 1960s and ‘70s feminism is quite different than the experiences of those women’s grown children, Dr. Mason says. She describes her women graduate students at UC-Berkeley and compares the family-related experiences of women and men once they move on into universities and the professions. Two things, she says, are essential if women are to successfully combine work and families in either world: a flexible work schedule and child care. She elaborates.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:17 secs

Conversation 4

The 19th century transformed American families, Dr. Mason notes, then describes the vastly expanded role of schools in child rearing. The experience of 18 year olds in America and Europe are contrasted. Acknowledging the impact on families of technology and mobility, Dr. Mason outlines what America can and cannot learn from other societies. She urges a national conversation about what’s important, concerned about the growing imbalance between family and work in America. Certain that we are in a period of very strong transition, Dr. Mason contrasts the resiliency of families to worrisome realities faced by those among America’s underclass. She observes that Americans seem to have given up on poor people.

Conversation 1 RealAudio10:46 secs

Conversation 5

“Social welfare” affects the quality of everyone’s life and all families, says Dr. Mason.  She insists that all Americans are working too hard while their quality of every day deteriorates. Families are paying the price, she says. As a lawyer, Dr. Mason witnesses serious problems surrounding custody and argues both for giving children a role in their own custody and for following developmentally sensible guidelines.  She describes children’s love of stability and continuity and the importance of their siblings. She speaks of shifting affectional bonds and relationships and of the often unexpected results when adopted children find birth parents.

Conversation 1 RealAudio11:42 secs

Conversation 6

We have an urgent need, Dr. Mason says, to focus on what is happening to the fabric of American society as a whole and to individual children in particular as all parents are forced to work very long hours, especially parents at the bottom of the economy, where wages are falling.

Conversation 1 RealAudio3:08 secs


We are delighted that after four years of trying, we were finally able to sit down with Dr. Mason for this Conversation. Her courtesy and gracious welcome were very special and we thank her in full measure.

We also thank Dr. Paul Ekman for alerting us to Dr. Mason’s work.

Oxford University Press’ Susan Fensten, Randy Faust and Valerie Hartman were particularly helpful in assuring that we had All Our Families in hand, with which to prepare for this Conversation. OUP consistently operates at the highest levels of professionalism and we are appreciative. Thanks also to Chrisopher Wahlers at Simon&Schuster, who put us on the right track to connect with Transaction Publishers.

Related Links:
All Our Families:  New Policies for a New Century, of which Dr. Mason is one of the editors and contributors, is published by Oxford University Press and is now in its second edition.
From Father’s Property to Children’s Rights:  The History of Child Custody in the United States is published by Columbia University Press

Dr. Mason’s ground breaking book, The Equality Trap, published by Transaction Publishers, is available with a new introduction by Dr. Mason.

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