The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home
by Arlie Hochschild
I read this book at the urging of my oldest son, a college freshman, who read it for his current favorite class in gender studies. I believe his urging came on a morning that my husband and I were having it out over, stripped down, housework, childcare, and appreciation. I’ve had a lot of thoughts stewing about that since I read the book, which I will hopefully find some time to write about on my other blog before too long.
As for The Second Shift, it was a groundbreaking book originally published in 1988, while the influx of women into jobs and careers previously held almost exclusively by men was still, if not in its infancy, in its adolescence. Dual income families were becoming more and more the norm, and Arlie Hochschild, a sociology professor at Berkeley, wanted to understand the impact this seismic shift was having on marriages and families. So she spend several years repeatedly interviewing more than fifty couples, often just spending time in their homes observing, like a fly on the wall (or as she says, “like the family dog”). The Second Shift highlights just a fraction of those couples, who represent a good cross-section of all of the couples Hochschild spent time with.
What Hochschild found – and this will surely come as no surprise – is that even when both the husband and the wife work at jobs outside the home (or in the case of a daycare worker who earns money by working at home), even when they both work roughly the same number of hours each week, and even when (though at the time the book was written this was more rare than it is now) they earn roughly the same amount of money or the wife outearns the husband, the bulk of housekeeping and childcare still falls squarely on the shoulders of wives. Hochschild estimated that wives generally work what adds up to an entire month more of “work” per year than men when we look at household and child rearing tasks and responsibilities.
There is a strange dance that goes on between working husbands and wives (and I would posit, just as much between many one-income couples, as well). We go into marriage with certain ideals about equity and sharing of responsibilities, and those ideals often erode or evaporate in the face of reality. What often results is a constant tug-of-war, with each partner trying to stand their ground, or a sort of delusional rationalization of the situation sets in when (usually the wife) resigns herself to the fact that the sharing will never be equitable. In either case, resentment builds, on the part of the wife who feels that she is not getting the “partnership” she bargained for, and on the part of the husband who doesn’t want to be nagged.
Of course there are exceptions – there are couples who DO share the household and child rearing responsibilities equitably, but even almost thirty years after The Second Shift was published, those partnerships are still the exception and not the rule.
Hochschild, through her extensive research into these issues, has determined that the underlying reason for the inequity and imbalance not only in responsibilities, but also power, between dual income couples is what she refers to as a “stalled revolution,” explained this way: there has been a revolution for women in that we have entered the workforce in droves; however the revolution has “stalled” because (a) men, as a whole, have changed a lot more slowly than women have, and (b) the workplace itself has also not changed; it is still mainly suited to men who have wives at home to take care of all of their household and childcare responsibilities. In other words, the workplace is still not family friendly. And everyone pays the price for this: women, men, children, and marriages and families as a whole.
Rather than being a feminist rant, I found this book to be sensitive, engaging, and really pretty fascinating. The ideas set forth are a lot more complex than what I’ve described here.
So much of it rang true for me personally. Even though I am a stay-at-home-mother, the imbalance exists in my house and is a bone of contention, and I know that’s true for most of my friends who are stay-at-home-mothers, too. Hochschild briefly touches on that point – that the “job” of mothering and caring for a household has become extremely devalued – but it’s a point I want to get into further and hope to write about separately. In any case, the focus of The Second Shift is families in which both the husband and the wife have outside paid jobs, so the imbalance between couples in one-income families falls somewhat outside of that.
Very good book; would make for excellent book club discussion.