The War Over the Family

The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work

by Arlie Russell Hochschild
Metropolitan Books, 316 pp., $22.50

The Divorce Culture

by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead
Knopf, 224 pp., $24.00

The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family

by Dana Mack
Simon and Schuster, 368 pp., $25.00

The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families

by Stephanie Coontz
Basic Books, 238 pp., $23.00

Kids These Days: What Americans Really Think about the Next Generations

by Steve Farkas, by Jean Johnson, with Ann Duffett, by Ali Bers
Public Agenda, 50 pp., $10.00 (paper)

TableA

Doubtless even cavemen used “work” as a subterfuge to reduce their domestic duties. Men today still manage to get by with doing little work at home. Nor do they have difficulty claiming that extra hours away from home are required, either by their superiors’ demands or to bring in enough money to pay mounting household bills. Of course, some men truly like, even love, their jobs, not least because their work tends to have a coherent structure, especially when compared with the demands of growing children.

Now Arlie Russell Hochschild claims women are also using work as an escape. “In this new model of family and work life,” she writes, “a tired parent flees a world of unresolved quarrels and unwashed laundry for the reliable orderliness, harmony, and managed cheer of work.” The Time Bind is based on three summers of interviewing some 130 factory and clerical workers at a company she called “Amerco.” Whether by accident or design, she scatters sufficient clues to identify it as the Corning Glass Company’s central plant in upstate New York.

The company gave Hochschild an office, and her findings are based largely on interviews she conducted there or in employees’ homes. The women, most of whom had young children, portrayed their jobs as “fun,” even “carefree,” as well as “a respite from the emotional tangles at home” and “more interesting than life at home.” This being so, Hochschild tells us, many not only willingly put in ten-and eleven-hour days, but most don’t even take their full vacation allotments. This dedication, she adds, is as evident for production and clerical workers as for executives.

Is this rendering plausible? It is one thing to say that work settings can be companionable, as they very often are. Even blue-collar jobs afford respites for socializing, and workmates often become good friends. But it is another thing to argue that people put in evening and weekend hours because it’s more enjoyable than going home. For one thing, we have to ask how likely it is that women will acknowledge dissatisfaction with company policy to a researcher established in a company office. We know, moreover, that blue-collar workers usually agree to overtime because they want or need the extra money. This could be so in the Corning area, where the median family income is $39,277, visibly below the national figure of $43,082. (The Time Bind does not provide details about the earnings of the people Hochschild talked to and how urgently they may be needed, which seems an unfortunate omission in a study of this kind.) Moreover, quite a few of Hochschild’s women are single mothers, trying to make ends meet on a lone paycheck. Whether many of her respondents were making the best out of a situation in which they badly needed overtime payments is a question Hochschild does not adequately consider.

Of course, professionals are expected to put in extra time at the office or home. If you want to …

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Letters

Divorce Culture’ September 24, 1998