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Review: Lightning Rod In The Storm Over Work And Home

P.G. Gosselin. (1997, May 28). “Lightning rod in the storm over work and home.” The Boston Globe, pp. F1, 8.


The cultural war over issues such as family values, abortion, sexuality, and censorship has produced mine fields into which unexpected persons may touch over unexpected explosions. In America, according to the Globe’s Gosselin, “Work/family balance has emerged as one of the most fiercely contested terrains in the cultural wars between liberals and conservatives over where the country is headed.”

Work/family balance is one of those issues that pollsters and social scientists regularly discover bedevils Americans, but nobody seems to do much about.

Arlie Hochschild is surprised and disappointed that her book, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work, has conservatives so elated and liberals so angry. She is a child of Boston Brahmins, a “third culture kid” whose diplomat parents put her through schools in Israel, New Zealand, Ghana, and Tunisia. She met her leftist-leaning husband, Adam Hochschild, during a Civil Rights “Freedom Summer” in Mississippi:

I carry the ’60s with me. That’s who I am. I learned the power of people getting together around a good idea, the good idea of women’s rights, of civil rights, of having a healthy environment. I’m just applying that to time and the politics of time.

But that is not how her liberal critics see her. An earlier book, The Second Shift, pictures couples forced into two-family incomes by economic necessity. And it describes women as unfairly forced to take on a second shift of house work and children when they get home. That has been a prevailing view of the two-parent working family.

In The Time Bind, Hochschild revises this view of the contemporary family. Her investigation of a Midwestern company (she calls Amerco) produces this revisionist report:

In this new model of family and work life, a tired parent flees a world of unresolved quarrels and unwashed laundry for the reliable orderliness, harmony and managed cheer of work.

What Hochschild has come to believe is that parents are now choosing the work place over home, less out of economic necessity than for a more orderly and fulfilling life in the workplace. This might tie into other research finding that primary community for many has moved from the neighborhood to the workplace.

Of course this report can be taken as strong affirmation of conservative social critiques. Lisa Schiffren, founder of the Independent Women’s Forum and former speech-writer for Dan Quayle, says:

She’s dead on when she says women are disinvesting in the family, and it’s no surprise; for the last quarter century we’ve been telling women that their highest and best use is in the marketplace, not at home.

On the other hand, Rosalind C. Barnett, senior scholar at the Murray Research Center at Radcliffe College objects:

We have had workaholic men around for a long time, and we’ve patted them on the back, Now we have some workaholic women, and she’s declaring the end of the family.

Hochschild is also attacked for her methodology. Her midwestern company is not seen as typical. Out of her sample of 130 female workers, only 20% chose work over the home, and in another 50 percent, the interviewer found such a “theme” of thought. Barnett, whose own study of 300 working families reached different conclusions, says of Hochschild’s work, “This is the worst kind of qualitative social science.”

The intention behind The Time Bind was to criticize the demands of today’s capitalistic enterprises on the private lives of workers and suggest reforms including a 35-hour work week. It’s aim is more “radical” than “conservative” or” liberal.” It has certainly encouraged continued debate about, if not solutions to, the conditions of and supports for family and community in contemporary societies.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do you know any women or men who admit to leaving the demands of home and children for a more manageable and fulfilling workplace? Are there some you think are afraid to deal frankly with this personal issue?
  2. Does economic necessity demand two-full time jobs for parents these days? Are there ways one parent could stay home for some years and then work part-time?
  3. Does most of the burden of this issue fall on women? What are most men doing about the problem of work and family? What else might men do?
  4. What are your beliefs about family, gender, income, and work?
  5. Is it fair to raise the question as to whether or not the welfare of children should be placed above the fulfillment of parents?


  1. There is a crisis of family and community in many societies today. It is something that should be talked about frankly without the paralysis of polarization. We must listen to others with differing opinions.
  2. The hurt felt by this author is due in part to the way her opinions were communicated and in part by our societal tendency to sensationalize news and social debates.
  3. Any society that does not sacrifice for the sake of its children jeopardizes its future.

Dean Borgman
© 2018 CYS




Center for Youth Studies

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