Unequal Time: Gender, Class, and Family in Employment Schedules

Russell Sage Foundation
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Life is unpredictable. Control over one’s time is a crucial resource for managing that unpredictability, keeping a job, and raising a family. But the ability to control one’s time, much like one’s income, is determined to a significant degree by both gender and class. In Unequal Time, sociologists Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel explore the ways in which social inequalities permeate the workplace, shaping employees’ capacities to determine both their work schedules and home lives, and exacerbating differences between men and women, and the economically privileged and disadvantaged. Unequal Time investigates the interconnected schedules of four occupations in the health sector—professional-class doctors and nurses, and working-class EMTs and nursing assistants. While doctors and EMTs are predominantly men, nurses and nursing assistants are overwhelmingly women. In all four occupations, workers routinely confront schedule uncertainty, or unexpected events that interrupt, reduce, or extend work hours. Yet, Clawson and Gerstel show that members of these four occupations experience the effects of schedule uncertainty in very distinct ways, depending on both gender and class. But doctors, who are professional-class and largely male, have significant control over their schedules and tend to work long hours because they earn respect from their peers for doing so. By contrast, nursing assistants, who are primarily female and working-class, work demanding hours because they are most likely to be penalized for taking time off, no matter how valid the reasons. Unequal Time also shows that the degree of control that workers hold over their schedules can either reinforce or challenge conventional gender roles. Male doctors frequently work overtime and rely heavily on their wives and domestic workers to care for their families. Female nurses are more likely to handle the bulk of their family responsibilities, and use the control they have over their work schedules in order to dedicate more time to home life. Surprisingly, Clawson and Gerstel find that in the working class occupations, workers frequently undermine traditional gender roles, with male EMTs taking significant time from work for child care and women nursing assistants working extra hours to financially support their children and other relatives. Employers often underscore these disparities by allowing their upper-tier workers (doctors and nurses) the flexibility that enables their gender roles at home, including, for example, reshaping their workplaces in order to accommodate female nurses’ family obligations. Low-wage workers, on the other hand, are pressured to put their jobs before the unpredictable events they might face outside of work. Though we tend to consider personal and work scheduling an individual affair, Clawson and Gerstel present a provocative new case that time in the workplace also collective. A valuable resource for workers’ advocates and policymakers alike, Unequal Time exposes how social inequalities reverberate through a web of interconnected professional relationships and schedules, significantly shaping the lives of workers and their families.
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About the author

DAN CLAWSON is professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. NAOMI GERSTEL is Distinguished University Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Russell Sage Foundation
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Published on
Jul 10, 2014
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Pages
340
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ISBN
9781610448437
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / General
Business & Economics / Labor
Social Science / General
Social Science / Sociology / General
Social Science / Sociology / Marriage & Family
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Can working parents in America—or anywhere—ever find true leisure time?

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Schulte first asked this question in a 2010 feature for The Washington Post Magazine: "How did researchers compile this statistic that said we were rolling in leisure—over four hours a day? Did any of us feel that we actually had downtime? Was there anything useful in their research—anything we could do?"

A New York Times bestseller, Overwhelmed is a map of the stresses that have ripped our leisure to shreds, and a look at how to put the pieces back together. Schulte speaks to neuroscientists, sociologists, and hundreds of working parents to tease out the factors contributing to our collective sense of being overwhelmed, seeking insights, answers, and inspiration. She investigates progressive offices trying to invent a new kind of workplace; she travels across Europe to get a sense of how other countries accommodate working parents; she finds younger couples who claim to have figured out an ideal division of chores, childcare, and meaningful paid work. Overwhelmed is the story of what she found out.

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An economy that operates 24/7—as ours now does—imposes extraordinary burdens on workers. Two-fifths of all employed Americans work mostly during evenings, nights, weekends, or on rotating shifts outside the traditional 9-to-5 work day. The pervasiveness of nonstandard work schedules has become a significant social phenomenon, with important implications for the health and well-being of workers and their families. In Working in a 24/7 Economy, Harriet Presser looks at the effects of nonstandard work schedules on family functioning and shows how these schedules disrupt marriages and force families to cobble together complex child-care arrangements that should concern us all. The number of hours Americans work has received ample attention, but the issue of which hours—or days—Americans work has received much less scrutiny. Working in a 24/7 Economy provides a comprehensive overview of who works nonstandard schedules and why. Presser argues that the growth in women's employment, technological change, and other demographic changes over the past thirty years gave rise to the growing demand for late-shift and weekend employment in the service sector. She also demonstrates that most people who work these hours do so primarily because it is a job requirement, rather than a choice based on personal considerations. Presser shows that the consequences of working nonstandard schedules often differ for men and women since housework and child-rearing remain assigned primarily to women even when both spouses are employed. As with many other social problems, the burden of these schedules disproportionately affects the working poor, reflecting their lack of options in the workplace and adding to their disadvantage. Presser also documents how such work arrangements have created a new rhythm of daily life within many American families, including those with two earners and absent fathers. With spouses often not at home together in the evenings or nights, and parents often not at home with their children at such times, the relatively new concept of "home-time" has emerged as primary concern for families across the nation. Employing a wealth of empirical data, Working in a 24/7 Economy shows that nonstandard work schedules are both highly prevalent among American families and generate a level of complexity in family functioning that demands greater public attention. Presser makes a convincing case for expanded research and meaningful policy initiatives to address this growing social phenomenon.
About 27.5 million Americans—nearly 24 percent of the labor force—earn less than $8.70 an hour, not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, even working full-time year-round. Job ladders for these workers have been dismantled, limiting their ability to get ahead in today's labor market. Low-Wage America is the most extensive study to date of how the choices employers make in response to economic globalization, industry deregulation, and advances in information technology affect the lives of tens of millions of workers at the bottom of the wage distribution. Based on data from hundreds of establishments in twenty-five industries—including manufacturing, telecommunications, hospitality, and health care—the case studies document how firms' responses to economic restructuring often results in harsh working conditions, reduced benefits, and fewer opportunities for advancement. For instance, increased pressure for profits in newly consolidated hotel chains has led to cost-cutting strategies such as requiring maids to increase the number of rooms they clean by 50 percent. Technological changes in the organization of call centers—the ultimate "disposable workplace"—have led to monitoring of operators' work performance, and eroded job ladders. Other chapters show how the temporary staffing industry has provided paths to better work for some, but to dead end jobs for many others; how new technology has reorganized work in the back offices of banks, raising skill requirements for workers; and how increased competition from abroad has forced U.S. manufacturers to cut costs by reducing wages and speeding production. Although employers' responses to economic pressures have had a generally negative effect on frontline workers, some employers manage to resist this trend and still compete successfully. The benefits to workers of multi-employer training consortia and the continuing relevance of unions offer important clues about what public policy can do to support the job prospects of this vast, but largely overlooked segment of the American workforce. Low-Wage America challenges us to a national self-examination about the nature of low-wage work in this country and asks whether we are willing to tolerate the profound social and economic consequences entailed by these jobs. A Volume in the Russell Sage Foundation Case Studies of Job Quality in Advanced Economies
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