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Not Home Alone: A Review of The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild

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            Sociologist Arlie Hochschild was able to convey academic research into an extremely readable format by providing an insider’s view of ten couple’s lives.  She did this by spending a large amount of time inside the two-working-parent homes:

I shopped with them, visited friends, watched television, ate with them, walked through parks, and came along when they dropped their children at daycare…I sat on the living room floor and drew pictures and played house with the children…I tried to become as unobtrusive as a family dog. (5-6).

By doing so, she gained a very realistic insight into how the couples shared the burden of “the second shift”—the home work waiting for them after their “first shift” at their jobs.  The book is certainly qualified as an academic text, with plenty of references and statistics.  What makes it interesting is the portrait of the families’ lives and their words which Hochschild was able to gain by literally being in the households.  Those pictures and quotations not only provide a fascinating view of the division of household labor.  Her interviews with the parents reveal their family and cultural background as well as attitude towards sharing the household and parenting burden.

Hochschild has more than an academic interest in her topic.  In the Preface, she describes how she took her infant son with her to her office at the sociology department of the University of California.  She relates the different reactions to the infant’s presence from students and faculty.  She discusses how so many of her female students want to have families and careers at the same time.  The time with her infant son at her office “crystallized the concern that drives this book” (vii).  “I have explored the inner lives of two-job families in the faith that taking a very close look now can help these young women find solutions for the future that go far beyond an infant box and luck” (xiii).

Throughout the book, Hochschild refers to an advertising image of the “working mother look”, the “supermom” with “flying hair” (1).  It is a picture of grace, confidence, and power.  She also refers to statistics based on the actual time spent by working moms and determined they worked “an extra month of twenty-four hour days a year” (3).   She is intent to illustrate the reality behind the “flying hair” illusion, as well as document the disparity of the “second shift” workload.  She approaches her research by discussing the role of gender, family myths and illusions, as well as what she believes is “the cultural cover-up” (11-32).  She sets out to explore the reality of the division of labor in the various couples, as well as the individual couple’s background and attitudes.  She does so without seeming to have an “agenda”.  Her main thesis and focus is the economic or social reason for more women in the workplace has had the effect of proportionally increasing their work at home.  Further, any social or cultural “revolution” regarding the equality of women, particularly in the workplace, does not necessarily appear at home.

Hochschild explains her academic research early on (4-6).  If she were to present her work in a purely academic model, we would be left with tables and graphs and footnotes regarding the background, attitude and behavior of the subjects.  Instead, she gives us ten couples as the representative class of the greater number of couples studied.  By doing so, dry statistics become the words of the real-world couples, with a greater impact:

In the sixth year of her marriage, when Nancy again intensified her pressure on Evan to commit himself to equal sharing, Evan recalled saying “Nancy, why don’t you cut back to half time, that way you can fit everything in.”  At first Nancy was baffled:  “We’ve been married all this time, and you still don’t get it.  Work is important to me.  I worked hard to get my MSW.  Why should I give it up?” (41)

            The couples that are “showcased” in the book as typical of the total pool exhibit a lot of attitudes and behavior, like Nancy and Evan, that is not uncommon and is likely to be familiar to the reader.  For Anita and Ray, conflicts seem built in:  “Ray isn’t the anti-feminist type.  But he has to let you know ‘I’m the man of the house.’  Ego is real important to him.  He’s got to be respected as a husband and a man” (129).  According to Hochschild, “(e)ighty percent of the men in my study of two-job couples had one thing in common…they didn’t share housework and childcare.  This introduced extra work for their wives and often tension in their marriages” (173).  Two men were shown as representative of the twenty percent who shared the home work and childcare equally.  Interestingly, Hochschild portrays them together in a chapter titled “Sharing Showdown and Natural Drift:  Pathways to the New Man” (173).  It is a statement that for a two-job family, “the new man” is necessary for success:  “Many working mothers are already doing all they can at home.  Now it’s time for men to make the move.  In an age of divorce, marriage itself can be at stake” (215).

            At first glance, it is easy to read The Second Shift as male-bashing, or a battle of the sexes, or the results of changing role models and stereotypes.  However, the true impact is underscored to some extent in each family:

In the end, care for children is the most important part of the second shift, and the effects of a man’s care or his neglect will show up again and again through time—in the child as a child, in the child as an adult, and probably also in the child’s own approach to fatherhood, and in generations of fathers to come.  (237)

            Hochschild concludes with a remedy sure to polarize readers:  “(w)e really need, as Frank Furstenberg has suggested, a Marshall Plan for the Family” complete with “paid parental leave”, “parental insurance”, “tax breaks” and “tax credits” (268).  The involvement of the government in such a fashion is ideologically “democratic”.  While it is difficult to refute her conclusion that “the American government could create a ‘safer environment’ for the two-job family”, she does not offer any ideas on funding such a massive endeavor (268).  Instead, she defensively states “(i)f they (reforms) seem ‘utopian’ today, we should remember that in the past, the eight-hour day, the abolition of child labor, and the vote for women once seemed utopian, too” (269).

            Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift is not her first book and hopefully not her last.  She is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her doctorate in 1969.  She has published extensively since 1969, received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and served with distinction on various academic and political committees (Curriculum Vitae, Arlie Russell Hochschild).  It would be easy to dismiss her as a liberal California academic who came of age in the epic late sixties of California.  However, a review of her research and writing indicates a mastery of a variety of sociology topics, particularly family relationships.  The Second Shift was named one of the New York Times notable social science books of 1989, and in 1996 she was invited to address the White House Domestic Policy Council on “How to Implement Family Friendly Policies” (C.V., Hochschild).  If she has any hidden agenda or political bias, it is miniscule.  Her awards and contributions to her field speak for themselves.

            The Second Shift has the strength of a “crossover” book able to succeed in academia as well as the public marketplace.  Hochschild’s writing makes more of her subjects than just sociological statistics and research participants.  We see in them our neighbors, friends, family, and ourselves.  By doing so, it is a valid “self-help” book without preaching or pontificating.  Further, it is an enduring text; although written almost twenty years ago (with a new “afterword” in 1997), it rings with an accuracy of family life today.  If there is any weakness to be found, it is no fault of the author.  In a sense, the book is dated.  There have been significant changes in society since her study, and it would be fascinating to see an update with new couples.  One major change, clearly connected to her thesis, is the massive increase in divorces since 1989.  Other changes, perhaps seen as visionary at the time of publication, is the increase in “family friendly” policies, particularly in the private sector.

            The Second Shift was extremely thought-provoking, leading to comparisons and analogies to families and friends.  Throughout the book was the underlying message of “what is this kind of lifestyle doing to the kids?”  Hochschild certainly reinforced the idea that children need two parents.  If the economics of the situation mandate two-job families, then the parents must make the commitments and sacrifices necessary, or the children will suffer the consequences.

Works Cited

Hochschild, Arlie, with Anne Machung.  The Second Shift.  New York:  Viking Press,


Curriculum Vitae, Arlie Russell Hochschild.  University of California, Berkeley.


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