It’s another day and here’s yet another book I wouldn’t have read if not for my list of 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40. Not only had I never heard of The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home (1989, updated 2012) by Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung, but I couldn’t even find it at my local library. I had to use Prospector to get a copy. The title pretty much tells you what the book is about: As more women have joined the workforce, they often still do the majority of the work at home. Hochschild focused on married women with young children. She found that women, on average, worked one full-time month per year more on domestic chores than their husbands. I found Second Shift interesting, clearly written, and certainly still relevant despite the recent paucity of copies on library shelves.
This book was first written in 1989, almost thirty years ago, but it does not feel out of date. Hochschild approaches the issue of the division of labor at home from a very scientific and sociological point of view. She uses statistics, formal interviews, and clear definitions to give a pretty clear framework for her investigation. The book begins with the case studies of ten different couples–all of whom she’d spent significant time interviewing as well as observing in their home. Not only do we read stories about real and interesting people and their struggles, but they serve as examples of what is going on in countless other homes. She uses a relatively good mix of racial and economic diversity in choosing her published case study couples. Although she mentions same-sex couples and the nannies and babysitters who support the families with two working parents, the book does not focus on them. In addition, Hochschild does not forget that it was primarily poor, minority women who’d been working out of their homes before it was ever an issue for the average middle-class woman.
Much of this book is what you would expect: women still carry the majority of the load when it comes to domestic chores at home. And even though the numbers have evened out slightly, this still holds true for the most recent numbers added to the book in 2012. One aspect that I found interesting was that Hochschild dove into the upbringing and political leanings of her subjects. She could then compare what her subjects thought about men helping out at home to what actually happened in their homes. Surprisingly, ideas and reality often did not match. One more conservative couple had a woman who desperately wanted to be a traditional housewife, but it was impossible financially. And her husband helped her out at home–much more than another couple that professed more progressive views on working women and equality.
One other fascinating aspect was that men clearly had the upper hand when it came to negotiations about chores inside the home. Men have years of culture and society on their sides. Women would say they were lucky to have a husband who did any work at all. One man stated that his wife was lucky that he tolerated her making more than him. Many women wanted their husbands to do more but were legitimately afraid to push them too far. Statistically women are worse off after divorce than men: they are less likely to remarry and more likely to fall into poverty. A number of women in the study were very unhappy but chose not to fight that battle because they were afraid of the alternative.
As someone who is single and childless, this book made me appreciate how difficult it is to juggle children, a husband, and a career. One of the happier homes in the book was one where both the mom and dad had put their career ambitions on the back burner in order to focus on their children. But they faced pressure for not putting their careers first and still had to make sacrifices. The United States has abysmal parental leave policies. I’ve seen friends and co-workers’ desperate struggle just to spend some time at home after giving birth–and that doesn’t take into account all the parenting years that follow. I wish this country were more family oriented, and this book, written thirty years ago, underscores the need for changes.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.