Cultures, Social Behavior

A United Front on Second Shifts: Working Models of Parental Work

Parental Work

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home” originally published in 1989 and republished in 2012 is even more relevant today than it was then. This author, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, was one of the first to challenge modern economic theory, the roles of parental work and and structure in terms of gender equity.

“Men who shared the load at home seemed just as pressed for time as their wives, and torn between the demands of career and small children…But the majority of men did not share the load at home. Some refused outright. Others refused more passively, often offering a loving shoulder to lean on, an understanding ear as their working wife faced the conflict they both saw as hers.”

Hochschild asserted that for women to assume “parental work” and housekeeping without financial compensation resulted in increasing women’s dependence and diminishing their power in all areas of life.

The Double Burden of the Second Shift

Partially as a result of the book, another popular term, “double burden” was coined to describe the amount of unpaid domestic labor and parental work being performed by working mothers. When economic conditions made it necessary for mothers to seek paid work outside the home, men did not assume a portion of their unpaid domestic duties and parental work. A great deal has been written about the effects of this inequity on individuals, families, and societies worldwide.

Hochschild argues that care, or emotional labor, is a valuable form of work (second shift) that provides the basis for all other human endeavor through the transmission of language, culture, and social organization. She drew attention to how these kinds of tasks of the second shift were demeaned and devalued by both men and the economic system. Further, she predicted that the consequences of a second shift and the economic devaluation of these important but unpaid contributions to society would include class stratification, unsustainable consumerism, and a reduced sense of well-being of society as a whole.

Criticisms of Second Shift Rhetoric

Some feminists present the argument that the rhetoric of the book endorses capitalism by commercializing interpersonal relationships and parental work, and therefore undermines the value of cooperation in caregiving. Reducing the definition of parenting to a form of “work” associated with financial compensation does not adequately account for the complex set of responsibilities and rewards associated with parenting, or the reasons for them.

Additionally, most single people cook and clean for themselves, rather than hiring someone else to do it, yet are not considered to have a second job. Modern feminists suggest that time spent estimating the economic value of housework to apply to a possible future economy which recognizes the true value of human connection might be better spent in other ways. Some of those other ways include exerting the same amount of social pressure usually reserved for battling racism to common manifestations of sexism, such as pretending to be unable to learn how to load a dishwasher.

Economic Structure, Parental Work or the Second Shift

Although this influential book was considered feminist, it also raised awareness of inequities built into the economic system and challenged those inequities. Unfortunately, the economic system has changed very little from the first publication of the book to the second. According to the U.S. 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics the average pay of child care workers is still abysmally low, a reflection of the low priority of children, parental work and caring for them, is given by our economic system, and by extension, society.

Perhaps this difficult reality served as one of the motivations for her latest book, titled “So How’s the Family? And Other Essays“. The book is described as a global exploration of the many ways people manage their own emotions while performing the emotional labor of caregiving. She has written several other books in the last few years and expanded her expertise even further.

Luckily for humanity, despite the continued second shift and inequity of an economic system in which the financial compensation for caregiving does not reflect its true social value, mothers continue to perform labors of love. Modern feminism is successfully encouraging men to do more of the same. By focusing on the joys that money can’t buy, both men and women are spending less time and energy acquiring and caring for things, and more caring for one another and their children.


Parental Work

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