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The dual-career couple has been hailed in the 1980s as the new ideal middle-class marital relationship. The popular press has highlighted this phenomenon, filling lifestyle or social issues sections with tales of such couples: She's a doctor and he's a lawyer, or he's a diplomat and she's a corporate consultant. They went to graduate school together, and after completing school, both went on to pursue their chosen careers. Each morning they awake, jog together, eat breakfast, and are off to their respective jobs. She flies off on Monday for a three-day business trip, and he leaves on Wednesday for a two-day business trip. Candlelight dinners, cultural events, and shared sports activities fill weekends. The same zeal and energy couples bring to their work, they also bring to their relationships. The message: the dual-career couple is glamorous.
There are also couples who work in different cities. Every other weekend, Cindy Brown, a chemist, bundles her six-month-old daughter into her car and drives one hundred miles for a conjugal visit. Her husband, Seymour Katz, a financial analyst, lives in downstate Illinois. He drives to Chicago with the couple's twelve-year-old daughter on alternate weekends. They have been married for fourteen years, and they have lived apart for six of them. And they are happy. So begins another exciting tale of the dual-career couple. The message: the dual-career couple is making it.
Stories of "America's New Elite," as Time magazine dubbed them, have captured the imagination and interest of the American population. For years we've read such sagas, which are perhaps rivaled only by stories of the rich and famous. Earlier generations of young girls grew up on Cinderella and Snow White, dreaming of princes to carry them off so they too could live happily ever after. Young girls today dream a different plot. There is still the prince, but happily-ever-after now includes a career. The dreams of young men are not so easily characterized. For earlier generations, a man's success was envisioned in occupational and financial terms; boys dreamed of being rich, strong, and independent. Wives, for many, were beautiful, faithful, and supportive, important symbols of success, as were bright, cheerful children and a comfortable home. The dreams of young men today (willingly or unwillingly) often include a wife who also works, as well as a vision of building family, house, and future together.
There are seemingly no barriers to fulfilling this new dream. Many young women believe not only that sex discrimination in the workplace is dead but also that the new 1980s man is looking for a wife who has an exciting, rewarding career just like his. The media offer an endless supply of stories about the successful female corporate executive and the happy dual-career couple. She knows how to dress, how to act in the board room, how to compete, and also how to be a team player with her colleagues. Not only is she accomplished in her chosen field, but she is also the perfect wife and mother. In her home dinner is served on time every night, the house is clean, her children receive "quality time," and she and her husband are mutually supportive of their respective careers. He remains aggressive in pursuit of career success, but his aggressiveness is now tempered by a "soft" side. He is an active participant in the broad range of family chores: he takes his turn at cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, caring for the children, shopping, transporting the children and their friends, and participating in the P.T.A. and neighborhood groups. He takes parenting seriously-from prenatal care to birthing, nocturnal feedings, and beyond. In short, the traditional job of the wife becomes a shared career.
In this vision of shared careers and responsibilities, there are few, if any, conflicts and even fewer obstacles to happiness. It seems eminently feasible from these accounts that both a husband and wife should be able to devote themselves to their respective careers, find self-expression in their work, and also pursue a stable, intimate, and enriching family life. Therefore, young men and women not only assume that they can have it all-spouse, children, and career-but they also are encouraged to want it all. A full, well-integrated life is easy to come by, and it can be had at no personal cost.
Dual Careers: A Contingent Phenomenon
There is no question that the dual-career couple exists. It is not simply a media creation designed to sell newspapers, launch new women's magazines, or placate the women's movement. Yet the origins, the working, and the potential consequences of this new development remain largely unexplored; the ideals of sexual equality in the workplace and the family have an allure far beyond what is actually the case. To separate myth from reality and to provide an accurate understanding of the phenomenon of the dual-career couple, we must first consider its special nature.
The attention paid to those situations in which career and family are successfully combined overshadows the fact that there are simply not many dual-career couples. Moreover, the vast majority of instances in which wives work do not result in equality in the home or reflect lessening inequality in the workplace. Married women who work are often expected to do double duty as wage earners and domestic laborers (homemakers). Their employment is viewed as secondary, even when their income is not supplementary or targeted for a specific purpose (such as purchasing a household appliance, a new home, or a vacation). The money they bring in does not count for as much as their husbands' salaries. Many more married women work because the ravages of inflation (especially in the 1970s) and debt have made two incomes necessary to support a family.
The dual-career couple is overshadowed statistically by the fastest growing category of family in the United States: the female-headed household. According to 1980 census figures, 12.4 percent of families were headed by a single parent, whereas 10.6 percent were single-parent households in 1970; 10.2 percent of all families were headed by a female in 1980, as compared to 8.7 percent in 1970.2 In contrast to single, female heads of households, married women with careers are glorified as "supermoms" or "superwomen"-women who have the ability to successfully integrate family life and work. Such honorific titles are not bestowed on noncareer working mothers. At best these women elicit sympathy for their lot; at worst they are blamed for creating the circumstances they must endure.
A major distinction must be made between "careers" and "jobs." Most women do not have careers; they have jobs. Careers involve employment in which some realistic expectation of upward occupational and financial mobility is expected and available. Careers most commonly begin within the salaried ranks of an organization (although they need not always do so) and provide a clear path for advancement from lower to higher levels of responsibility, authority, and reward (Wilensky, 1960). In contrast, jobs offer limited opportunities for advancement, responsibility, and authority, are paid by the hour, and promise little significant increase in financial reward for achievement or for longevity of employment. Despite the rapid increase in women's (especially married women's) participation in the labor force over the last twenty years, women still find, accept, or are relegated to jobs, not careers. The oft-cited statistics on women's overrepresentation in dead-end, low-paying work have been well documented (Oppenheimer, 1976). Women generally receive lower pay, work shorter hours (often part-time), and have less protection in employment than do men. Since far more women are likely to hold jobs than to have careers, the focus on married women with careers hardly reflects a typical circumstance.
Finally, the dual-career couple is a contingent phenomenon. This description is a major theoretical argument of this study and as such deserves a brief explanation here. Dual-career marriage assumes that the right combination of resources makes the integration of personal and professional lives easy. What is lacking in this facile analysis is an appreciation of the privileged status of those who have careers to begin with. One-half of a dual-career couple-the woman-who was interviewed for this study said it best:
Not everyone can afford to live the way we do. You really need a six-figure income. I feel that the popular magazines like Redbook do women and marriages a disservice. Some of the articles sound like everybody can have a dual-career marriage. A lot of people read these articles and use the dual-career couple as the ideal marriage, but most marriages will by definition fall short of this ideal because of the money aspect. What I mean is, my secretary gets paid about the same amount of money as my housekeeper. Can my secretary afford to have the type of dual-career family we have-a full-time housekeeper who also cares for the children? The answer is no.
Not only do this woman's observations emphasize an important precondition for the dual-career family-a high income-but they also challenge another representation of these families: their self-sufficiency. In fact, the couple's capacity to sustain two careers (and to acquire them in the first place) often depends on the availability of someone else to perform, for a wage, the duties necessary to maintain the household. The dual-career couple can prosper professionally in part because there are other couples or individuals who do not. Work and Family: the Sociological Context My remarks about the special and contingent character of the dual-career couple are not intended to deny the reality of its existence as an emergent family form. Rather, they are intended to help assign the dual-career couple its appropriate context, namely, within a system of stratification in which inequalities in access to employment and to rewards for work create differential life opportunities for both individuals and families. Four arguments are basic to understanding this context.
First, work and family are closely connected. The organization of work reflects the dominant functions of the economic system, creates the hierarchy of opportunities and rewards available, and determines both the financial position and the social status of family members. Work organizes family life inasmuch as it determines the amount of resources available for consumption, and it thereby affects the range of social and economic opportunities available to family members. The family also plays an important although not always visible role with respect to work-that is, families sustain and support the currently working members and create and raise new generations of workers.
Second, the stratification of families is not just a hierarchy of income or prestige; rather, families are linked to one another through the economic system that produces them. The linkage may be obscured by spatial separation, such as geographically or economically distinct neighborhoods, or the linkage may be direct, as when one family contracts for the labor of another. In both cases the linkage is simultaneously a product of and a precondition for the stratification of work and families.
Third, the relationship between work and family is dynamic and historically conditioned. As new systems of work (and, in general, new economic relations) have developed, they have caused massive changes in family structure. One need only contemplate the dramatic shifts in family structure occasioned by the transition from rural, agrarian economies to urban, industrial systems to recognize their importance: the separation of production from consumption, rendering families largely dependent on the labors of one (or possibly two) members; the lessening importance of inherited land or skills as a basis for continuity in economic activity; and the creation of external institutions and enterprises to provide basic services that were once handled within the family (education, childcare, the provision of clothing, emergency support, and so forth). Families have proven remarkably adaptable in responding to the transformation of economic systems. As might be expected, families in the 1980s are quite different from their eighteenth- and nineteenth-century predecessors, and, when considered across strata, they are very different from one another. Therefore, instead of assuming the family to be a universal category of social life, it is necessary to examine how the structure and internal operation of families differ over time and by economic position.
Fourth, even though popular use of the term family incorrectly specifies different social forms (historically and hierarchically), the term nonetheless has substantial normative and ideological influence. The "war over the family," as it has recently been called (Berger and Berger, 1983), is a direct reflection of the tension between the economic (and racial) stratification of families and the ideological influence of a universal notion of the proper, or "normal," family. Families without the economic resources to provide enough food, shelter, education, or financial security for their offspring are found lacking when compared to a "normal" family. Whether the blame for this situation is assigned to society, the economy, or to the family itself depends on the political stance of the observer. What unites those with different political ideologies, however, is a broad faith in the moral, religious, psychological, and social benefits of a family form that is striking in its similarity to the middle-class norm: the husband and wife residing with and providing for their children in a self-sufficient manner. Unstable, low-paying jobs create stress for poor families (particularly because families are actively judged by those in positions of social influence); but the abundance of work and high rewards for career commitment create tension for the dual-career couple as well. Most important are the problems couples encounter as they seek to mold family life to work demands without either violating norms that concern spousal roles, childcare, and household management or falling short of employers' expectations about vocational commitment and work performance.
Although it may occupy a special and contingent, or privileged, position in the stratification of families, the dual-career marriage nonetheless poses an important contrast to other family forms, and as such it raises two sets of core questions about the sociology of work and family.
Excerpted from More Equal Than Others by Rosanna Hertz Copyright © 1986 by Rosanna Hertz. Excerpted by permission.
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|List of Tables||ix|
|1.||The New "Modern Couple"?||1|
|Dual Careers: A Contingent Phenomenon||4|
|Work and Family: The Sociological Context||7|
|Research on Dual-Career Families||10|
|Beyond Organization Men and Token Women||15|
|From Family to Work||17|
|At the Crossroads: A New Marital Bond?||20|
|Organization of the Study||21|
|2.||Three Careers: His Work, Her Work, and Their Marriage||29|
|The Dual-Career Challenge||31|
|What They Do: A Sampling||35|
|Career Beginnings: His Career||40|
|Career Beginnings: Her Career||42|
|Their Career: Marriage||54|
|3.||Money Makes a Difference||84|
|Money and Authority||87|
|Money and Independence||101|
|4.||Having Children: Decisions, Strategies, and Constraints||114|
|Career Success and Women as Mothers||121|
|Dilemmas of Parenting and Careers||131|
|5.||Childcare Arrangements: Helping Hands||147|
|Hired Labor Versus Alternative Approaches||148|
|The Contradictions of Using Childcare Providers||160|
|6.||The Dual-Career Couple: Implications and Future Directions||196|
|Class and Family Structure||198|
|The Marriage of Careers||204|
|The Future of Dual-Career Marriage||211|