A Mother's Work

A Mother's Work: How Feminism, the Market, and Policy Shape Family Life

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    A Mother's Work
    Book Description:

    The question of how best to combine work and family life has led to lively debates in recent years. Both a lifestyle and a policy issue, it has been addressed psychologically, socially, and economically, and conclusions have been hotly contested. But as Neil Gilbert shows in this penetrating and provocative book, we haven't looked closely enough at how and why these questions are framed, or who benefits from the proposed answers.

    A Mother's Worktakes a hard look at the unprecedented rise in childlessness, along with the outsourcing of family care and household production, which have helped to alter family life since the 1960s. It challenges the conventional view on how to balance motherhood and employment, and examines how the choices women make are influenced by the culture of capitalism, feminist expectations, and the social policies of the welfare state. Gilbert argues that while the market ignores the essential value of a mother's work, prevailing norms about the social benefits of work have been overvalued by elites whose opportunities and circumstances little resemble those of most working- and middle-class mothers. And the policies that have been crafted too often seem friendlier to the market than to the family. Gilbert ends his discussion by looking at the issue internationally, and he makes the case for reframing the debate to include a wider range of social values and public benefits that present more options for managing work and family responsibilities.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14509-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    “What do you think family life will look like in fifty years?” was a question I posed to the Berkeley Family Forum, a book club of academics whose leisure time was spent doing what they were normally paid to do on the job. That evening we were dissecting Stephanie Coontz’s provocative work on the history of marriage, which concluded that married life today has become more fulfilling yet more fragile than in the past.¹ As to the future, she believed that marriage was unlikely to be revived as the primary source of commitment and caregiving in modern society. Historians are...

  5. I. Responding to the Tensions ofWork and Family
    • Chapter I The Social Context: Motherhood in Decline?
      (pp. 9-28)

      Not too long ago, caring for children was unquestionably the most important activity that women performed in society. Before the 1960s, it was customary for mothers not to work outside the home, a convention acknowledged and reinforced by social policy. For example, Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), a program under the Social Security Act of 1935, gave cash grants to single mothers so they could stay home and care for their children.¹ But during the 1960s, normative views and policies concerning the role of motherhood began to shift in response to feminist demands for social and economic equality—and, some...

    • Chapter II Work and Family: The Choices Women Make
      (pp. 29-48)

      One way of examining the choices women make is to take family size as an indicator of the constraints and considerations that give purpose and order to their daily lives. From this perspective we can distinguish at least four general categories that form a continuum of work-family lifestyles—traditional, neotraditional, modern, and postmodern. These categories are conditioned on the number of children in the family and linked to the mainspring of personal identity from which women derive a sense of achievement in life. Women having three or more children are associated with the traditional lifestyle, two children with the neotraditional,...

  6. II. Capitalism, Feminism, and the Family-Friendly State
    • Chapter III Capitalism and Motherhood: Does It Pay to Have Children?
      (pp. 51-86)

      Before looking into the influence of capitalism on motherhood, let us begin with an age-old question: Can capitalism survive? Karl Marx, as we all know, thought not. He claimed that ever-increasing competition and the drive for profit would intensify the exploitation of labor, sharpening class conflict and triggering the inevitable downfall of capitalism.¹ Responding to this question almost a century after the publication of theCommunist Manifesto,the well-known economic theorist Joseph Schumpeter agreed with Marx that capitalism was doomed, but not because it produced misery and heightened exploitation. On the contrary, he saw capitalism as delivering unprecedented material benefits...

    • Chapter IV Feminist Expectations: Who Suffers from the Problem That Has No Name?
      (pp. 87-123)

      The women’s movement for equal opportunity in the 1960s spawned tremendous gains in educational achievement and labor-force participation. Not only has women’s share of college enrollments increased (from 37 percent in 1960 to 57 percent in 2002), they work harder at their studies than men and walk off with a disproportionate share of honors (which may complicate life when the time comes for finding a mate with equivalent educational achievement).¹ Since the mid-1980s more bachelor’s and master’s degrees have been awarded annually to women than men. And women are increasingly going on to careers in high-status occupations, such as medicine,...

    • Chapter V How Family Friendly Are Family-Friendly Policies?
      (pp. 124-156)

      The shift of women’s labor from unpaid care and household management to paid employment has been advanced by an array of social policies aimed at reducing the friction between work and family life. These “family-friendly” policies typically include a package of benefits such as parental leave, family services, and day care. For the most part these policies address the lifestyle needs of mothers in the neotraditional and modern categories—those trying to balance work and family obligations. The costs of publicly subsidized day care are borne by all taxpayers, but the programs offer no benefits to childless women who prefer...

  7. Conclusion:: An Alternative to the Male Model
    • Chapter VI Rethinking Family Policy
      (pp. 159-184)

      Among academics, journalists, politicians, feminist leaders, and almost everyone else whose opinions on the role of modern-day women are in print, there is widespread agreement that something must be done to harmonize work and family life. As to the best approach, the overwhelming majority back two courses of action—the adoption of so-called family-friendly policies and of genderneutralizing policies.

      The first and most popular approach encompasses a range of public and private measures, starting most notably with the provision of subsidized, high-quality nonmaternal child care, which allow mothers with young children to be able to work.¹ Regarding this course, the...

  8. Appendix: Data on Factors Related to Fertility
    (pp. 185-190)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 191-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-228)