Singled Out

Minority Rules

Are employees with children in fact a minority? Best estimates are that they amount to only one-third of the work force, but that's a statistic arrived at by narrowing the definition to include only minor children (kids under 18). While many baby boomers have kids, a lot of them are now college-age or older, putting their parents back into the "childless" group, according to the stats.

Are the childless right that many benefits programs favor employees with kids? In large, multinational corporations, there is little dispute. Many benefits are for workers with kids exclusively--child-care subsidies are an examble. Evidence is strong that other programs primarily appeal to workers with kids--flextime is a case in point, as is telecommuting. But even in businesses that lack the extensive benefits programs of the corporate giants, there is typically some favoritism shown to those with children. For example, even when employees must contribute toward medical coverage for dependents, most businesses underwrite at least some of the cost--and 42 percent of the companies surveyed by The Conference Board conceded that childless employees subsidize the health-care costs of workers with families.

Remember, too, that it's not just formal benefits that are at issue. Just as much anger arises over informal benefits--such as giving workers with children days off when kids are sick and rarely expecting weekend work or overtime from workers with kids.

According to Mary Young, a workplace researcher at the Boston University School of Management, "Organizations have inadvertently created two classes: the haves and the have nots. Life status--whether or not you have kids--has become a dividing line. It sets employee against employee for prized but limited resources. That's created divisiveness in the work force. It stirs up a lot of dust, and it creates a lot of envy and anger."

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This article was originally published in the March 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Singled Out.

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