Unequal Time

Unequal Time: Gender, Class, and Family in Employment Schedules

Dan Clawson
Naomi Gerstel
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Unequal Time
    Book Description:

    Life is unpredictable. Control over one's time is a crucial resource for managing that unpredictability, keeping a job, and raising a family. But the ability to control one's time, much like one's income, is determined to a significant degree by both gender and class. InUnequal Time, sociologists Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel explore the ways in which social inequalities permeate the workplace, shaping employees' capacities to determine both their work schedules and home lives, and exacerbating differences between men and women, and the economically privileged and disadvantaged.

    Unequal Timeinvestigates the interconnected schedules of four occupations in the health sector-professional-class doctors and nurses, and working-class EMTs and nursing assistants. While doctors and EMTs are predominantly men, nurses and nursing assistants are overwhelmingly women. In all four occupations, workers routinely confront schedule uncertainty, or unexpected events that interrupt, reduce, or extend work hours. Yet, Clawson and Gerstel show that members of these four occupations experience the effects of schedule uncertainty in very distinct ways, depending on both gender and class. But doctors, who are professional-class and largely male, have significant control over their schedules and tend to work long hours because they earn respect from their peers for doing so. By contrast, nursing assistants, who are primarily female and working-class, work demanding hours because they are most likely to be penalized for taking time off, no matter how valid the reasons.

    Unequal Timealso shows that the degree of control that workers hold over their schedules can either reinforce or challenge conventional gender roles. Male doctors frequently work overtime and rely heavily on their wives and domestic workers to care for their families. Female nurses are more likely to handle the bulk of their family responsibilities, and use the control they have over their work schedules in order to dedicate more time to home life. Surprisingly, Clawson and Gerstel find that in the working class occupations, workers frequently undermine traditional gender roles, with male EMTs taking significant time from work for child care and women nursing assistants working extra hours to financially support their children and other relatives. Employers often underscore these disparities by allowing their upper-tier workers (doctors and nurses) the flexibility that enables their gender roles at home, including, for example, reshaping their workplaces in order to accommodate female nurses' family obligations. Low-wage workers, on the other hand, are pressured to put their jobs before the unpredictable events they might face outside of work.

    Though we tend to consider personal and work scheduling an individual affair, Clawson and Gerstel present a provocative new case that time in the workplace also collective. A valuable resource for workers' advocates and policymakers alike,Unequal Timeexposes how social inequalities reverberate through a web of interconnected professional relationships and schedules, significantly shaping the lives of workers and their families.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-843-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. About the Authors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. PART I Introduction
    • Chapter 1 Unpredictability and Unequal Control in a Web of Time
      (pp. 3-18)

      Because life is routinely unpredictable, our control over time becomes a crucial resource for keeping a job and having a family—but control over time, much like income, is contested and powerfully shaped by gender and class inequalities. Those inequalities reverberate through a “web of time” in which our daily schedules are connected to the schedules of others, especially our employers, our coworkers, and our family members.

      Take one example of a reverberating event that is both inevitable and unexpected: your child gets sick. All seemed well at bedtime, but at 5:00 AM your child is feverish and throwing up....

    • Chapter 2 Concepts and Methods
      (pp. 19-32)

      This chapter sets out our research design, briefly presents our data and methods, and then discusses key concepts and decisions. It is the most academic, nuts-and-bolts part of the book. Other readers may want more detail, which is available on the book’s website at:

      https://www. russellsage.org/publications/unequal-time.

      We began this study with a broad aim: to develop a research design that would allow us to understand inequalities in hours and schedules and the social processes that produce them. Initially we considered many occupations, but after substantial discussion, we decided to examine four linked health care occupations, for reasons both substantive and...

    • Chapter 3 The Context: Occupations and Organizations
      (pp. 33-58)

      Much research on time decontextualizes and disconnects individual workers from one another. These studies have yielded important insights, and we sometimes rely on them. But for our purposes, even these studies are limited: they cannot and do not provide a systemic view of the web of time, that is, of the ways time is a collective experience. These studies almost never embed workers in both shared occupationsandorganizations. Unless research embeds occupations in organizations, it is difficult to see the ways that time is layered, negotiated, contested, and shaped by unequal relations.

      This chapter provides a detailed discussion of...

    • Chapter 4 Setting the Official Schedule
      (pp. 59-86)

      When they are hired, regular staff members are typically given an official basic schedule that specifies in advance a number of work hours and a shift—day, evening, and/or night; weekday or weekend—that both they and their employer come to expect. These official schedules are disrupted much of the time, but in this chapter we begin by examining the frame work within which those disruptions occur. After introducing the official schedule, we argue that its development is shaped by four processes, all of which create inequalities.

      First, across the four occupations, management sets staffing ratios that provide the frame...

  7. PART II The Forms of Unpredictability
    • Chapter 5 Unpredictability and Churning: Is There a Fixed Schedule?
      (pp. 89-107)

      “Normal unpredictability” means that the schedules people actually work often do not match the schedules that are set in advance. Employers adjust staffing depending on the number and condition of the people seeking their services. Employees cannot work at some of the times specified by their schedules. Moreover, many workers put in extra hours, choosing from among the additional shifts that employers make available. For both employers and workers, the resulting unpredictability of schedules is both a matter of “objective necessity” dictated by external events and a struggle for control. The need to vary a schedule and the willingness to...

    • Chapter 6 Adding Time to the Official Schedule
      (pp. 108-129)

      Everybody talks about adding time to their official basic schedules—women and men, advantaged workers and disadvantaged workers—but workers have very different motives for wanting to add time, and they encounter very different responses from employers and the state. The issues associated with adding time play out as struggles over control, albeit struggles that are unequally shaped, fought, and won.

      The addition of time to official schedules is a pervasive feature of the unpredictability of time and highlights the web of time: the hours and schedules people actually work are not the result of a set of isolated individual...

    • Chapter 7 Taking Time Off: Sick Leaves and Vacations
      (pp. 130-156)

      Time off from work, whether for the pleasure of a vacation or the pain of an illness, is in some ways the defining example of normal unpredictabil ity and a site of sharp inequality. The conditions under which people can take time off, or control their time off, are contested for every occupation.

      The right to time off from work that many take for granted was contested and won for the most part in the last 150 years, with active skirmishing continuing today. Take the weekend. “The concept of the weekend, as we now understand it, didn’t appear in the...

  8. PART III Families and Jobs:: Creating and Responding to Unpredictability
    • Chapter 8 Unequal Families: Class Shapes Women’s Responses to Unpredictability
      (pp. 159-180)

      Both employers and employees in our study said that families drive unpredictability and the struggle over schedules. Talking about hours and schedules, a human resources administrator reported that when she talked to nurses about their schedules, “thekeyissue is family.” “Family is your responsibility, and it’s your first responsibility,” was how a nursing assistant with two children phrased it. A fire chief who supervised EMTs told us, “Family comes first.” Even a middle-aged doctor with a couple of kids insisted: “Family, then work, then anything else. That’s all. You have to prioritize.” Very similar formulations, it seems. Very different...

    • Chapter 9 Unequal Families: Class Shapes Men’s Responses to Unpredictability
      (pp. 181-208)

      An examination of emergency medical technicians and doctors—the two occupations dominated by men—suggests a process parallel to that for nursing assistants and nurses: those with class advantage promote gender conventions, while those with less class advantage “undo gender.” That is, professional men “do” gender convention and working-class men undo it.

      Cecilia Ridgeway argues: “The rigid structure of work time that the traditional workweek involves implicitly assumes that ideal workers cannot have direct responsibility for the daily care of dependent children.”¹ In our study that aptly describes one group and only one group—the male physicians. They look very...

  9. PART IV Strategies to Address Unpredictability
    • Chapter 10 Finding Solutions in the Web of Time: Coworkers
      (pp. 211-234)

      The web of time, which often creates unpredictability and causes schedule problems, can also provide the solutions to these problems and turn what might have been a major difficulty into a minor complication. With help from coworkers, people can take a sick day without being charged with one, and they can get vacation days or an extra shift at times that the scheduler says are not available. By swapping hours and schedules with one another, employees themselves, not the managers, take charge of a key aspect of scheduling decisions and solve the toughest problems, the ones that managers cannot or...

    • Chapter 11 The Push of the Family and the Pull of the Job
      (pp. 235-258)

      Many say that the family is a haven in a heartless world—and it is the job that is the heartless world. This chapter reverses that understanding. Here we show the ways in which workers often use the metaphor of “family” to describe the relationships they develop at work at the same time as they reject the view that their own family is a haven or an escape from the job. Paid work becomes the escape, and family the source of stress. As a result, workers sometimes seek extra hours on the job and do not always want to take...

  10. Part V Conclusion
    • Chapter 12 Inequality and the Normal Unpredictability of Time
      (pp. 261-272)

      Conventional wisdom holds that work policies about time are too rigid. This book shows that for many Americans the problem with work policies is too much flexibility as often as it is too much rigidity. Not only do sup posedly “flexible” work policies often force employees to adapt to unpredictability, but these policies are unequally distributed, as are the stresses they produce.

      Inequalities of power organized around gender and class shape how time and normal unpredictability play out—who controls time and who pays the costs. Control over time is negotiated and contested, in ways both direct and hidden, between...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 273-296)
  12. References
    (pp. 297-312)
  13. Index
    (pp. 313-324)