Gender, Work, and Family Essay

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Gender, work, and family is the study of the intersection of work and family, with a focus on how those intersections vary by gender. This research is motivated in large part by the tremendous growth in labor force participation among women in their childbearing years during the second half of the twentieth century. This influx of wives and mothers – including single mothers – into the workforce has raised questions about the division of labor in the family and whether state and corporate policies are sufficient to support new family types. Researchers also examine the causes of the divergent outcomes men and women experience in the workplace, as well as the effects labor force participation has on family formation, dissolution, and carework. These questions are most frequently researched quantitatively, but qualitative and theoretical work also contributes to the understanding of gender, work, and family.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s pivotal book Work and Family in the United States (1977) laid much of the groundwork for the study of gender, work, and family. Kanter made the case that changing family structures and increasing labor force participation among women were creating a new and complex set of interactions that were not being sufficiently studied in the traditional domains of the sociology of the family and the sociology of the labor force. Social scientists, Kanter claimed, subscribed to the myth of separate worlds,” a belief that work and family are separate and non-overlapping spheres, each of which operates free from the influence of the other and can be studied independently. Kanter’ made a case that the structures of work are actually quite crucial in shaping family life, and that family life, in turn, affects the workplace.

One of the intersections of work and family Kanter identified is the time and timing of work. Work and family responsibilities are both quite time consuming. As more and more women joined the labor force, researchers became increasingly curious about how families manage to find the time for paid employment, unpaid work in the home, and leisure. Most research has found striking and persistent differences in time allocation by gender. Hochschild’s (Hochschild with Machung 2003) ethnographic study of dual-earner households with children living at home found that mothers were working what amounted to a second shift” of housework and childcare when they got home from their paid jobs, while their husbands shouldered a much lighter load. Time diary research, however, suggests that the imbalance is not in the number of hours worked, but in the distribution of hours. Mothers do tend to do more child care and housework, but fathers spend more time in paid employment.

Another approach is to look at the time use of families, rather than that of men and women as individuals. Family structures have changed considerably since the middle of the twentieth century. Today’s families are much more likely to have two employed parents or be single-parent families than in the middle of the twentieth century. It is in these families in which all adults are employed that work-family conflict – in this case a time crunch” – is most likely to be felt (Jacobs & Gerson 2004) . Dual-earner families with children find it particularly difficult to balance the requirements of work and family. At the same time, however, there are also many families whose members are not able to find enough hours of paid work. It is also important to consider when family members work. Non-standard work schedules are associated with lower marital quality, especially among parents (Presser 2003).


  1. Hochschild, A. R. with Machung, A. (2003) The Second Shift. Penguin Books, New York.
  2. Jacobs, J. A. & Gerson, K. (2004) The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
  3. Presser, H. B. (2003) Working in a 24/ 7 Economy: Challenges for American Families. Russell Sage, New York.

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