‘The Second Shift’ at 25: Q & A with Arlie Hochschild

Courtesy of Penguin Books
Courtesy of Penguin Books

Twenty-five years ago, as a massive influx of women and mothers joined the workforce, Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist at Berkeley, wanted to know how families were coping with this revolutionary change. She reviewed time diary data and spent hours interviewing and observing 50 couples. She found what she called a “double day” — that women came home from a full day of paid work to a another round of unpaid housework and childcare. She figured women were working an extra month more than their spouses every year.

The name of her groundbreaking book, The Second Shift, not only described the exhausting, frustrating everyday reality of the growing number of working families, it became part of everyday language as well, in the United States and around the world.

I  met up with Hochschild recently and asked her to reflect on the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Second Shift —  how far we’ve come — and how far we have yet to go. Time-use research shows that women are still doing, on average, about twice the housework and child care as men, even when they work full time. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Schulte: The Second Shift still resonates with people 25 years after it first came out. It makes you wonder — have we made progress?

Hochschild: In the Second Shift, I argued that we are in a stalled revolution — that women have gone into the workforce, that was the revolution, but the workplace they go into and the men they come home to have changed less rapidly, or not at all. Nor has the government that could give them policies that would ease the way, like paid parental leave, paid family medical leave, or subsidized child care – the state of the art child care, that too is stalled. So what you’ve got are three sources of stall. What’s happening to men. What’s happening to the workplace and missing government help.

Today, I think we are in stall number two. There’s good news, there’s old bad news and there’s new bad news. And the good news, is that, the revolution continues and women are now half the labor force and they’ve moved up in it, they’ve earned more. And have gotten into more training, and broken ranks in a number of professions. And men have changed substantially. We’re all beginning to understand that the family has been a shock absorber of larger trends. And we’re finally seeing that these are not individual, private problems, but that they point to a larger cause.

The old bad news is that the workplace has been hard to change. If we had more flex time, it would be better for families. But we’re holding on to long hours at the professional level, and there’s been virtually no trickle down of work-family reforms to blue collar jobs. We don’t have paid parental leave. Singapore has a week. South Korea does. So it’s not just the Scandinavian countries we think about. We still don’t have subsidized child care. So the government hasn’t stepped up. Even talking about government help seems more like a pipedream now.

But I would say there’s a new bad news. It’s what’s happened to men. Blue collar men. From the early 1970′s, large companies began to automate and offshore to cheap labor pools and stopped sharing their higher and higher productivity. Productivity and profit went up, but wages stayed steady. And so what you had was blue collar workers without blue collar work. You had ghost towns and cities. In the year 2000, blue collar workers were working much shorter hours, there was a high proportion of unemployed. So we can ask, ‘What’s going on?’

Schulte: OK, what’s going on?

Hochschild: Some will say that these men have lost moral values. I think what they lost is morale. And I think they’re the canary in the coal mine. What’s happening to blue collar men is beginning to happen to white collar men. Their jobs are less certain and there are fewer jobs. And the wider the class gap, and the more people fall into the lower class, the more bad news. We know that – more alcoholism, more mental health problems, more second shift for women.

 Schulte: So do you have hope?


Arlie Hochschild, courtesy of the author

Hochschild: You’re talking to an optimist. I think before we look forward, it’s important to remember how far we have come. It’s been a LONG struggle. But we’ve made huge progress. I mean, when I started at Berkeley, women weren’t allowed to be part of the band. No women were allowed into the male faculty club. I mean, I was there. I remember that! The worlds were so divided. So the change has been huge. And part of what families have had to absorb, is that shock of female upward mobility. But now, we’ve got to look at families absorbing male downward mobility. I think there are more people who see that helping families make sense than there are people who don’t. Because women aren’t going home. They’re not going back. We’re here to stay.

Schulte: Yet the Pew Research Center found recently that 60 percent of those they surveyed felt it would be better if one parent – read Mom – stayed home with the kids. Do we really want to go back to the 1950s, when many women didn’t have a second shift, they were homemakers and that was their first and often only shift?

Hochschild: It’s like you gotta change the work place and the work place culture. With demanding work hours, if both of you work, you’re talking about farming your kids out to someone else because you can’t be with them. Obviously nobody wants that.

Ellen Galinsky’s surveys at the Families and Work Institute pointed to a desirable norm for many parents for working not full-time, but part-time. And I get that. I mean Norway has a 35-hour work week. That counts as part time for us in the United States, you know. And Norway’s doing well, by the way.

Schulte: They are actually. When you look at international comparisons of GDP per hours work, they’re number one in hourly poductivity.

Hochschild: Well, no wonder, because they’re getting it all done. Efficiently. So they can all go home. Norway has one of the highest proportions of women working in the world. So there’s something to learn there. If people had full-time, flexible hours, if full-time wasn’t extreme, like it is here, people may have a different view.

But the problem is in our language. Who wants to work part-time? I worked part-time at Berkeley, but I’ve always hated the word, “part-time.” To me, it’s whole, it’s just different.

Schulte: So what would be better language to use?

Hochschild: The New Work Day. I don’t like Modified Hours, because that implies it’s modifying something more standard. Hmm. Let’s see. Innovative Work Day. Effective Work Day.

Schulte: Effective Work Day. I think you’ve just coined another Second Shift.

 

 

 

 

 

Brigid Schulte writes about work-life issues and poverty, seeking to understand what it takes to live The Good Life across race, class and gender.
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