by Patricia McBroom
In spite of their dreams for a more leisurely family life, American workers are to an important degree choosing the opposite-longer hours at work.
They are not, for the most part, using company-offered alternatives to reduce work in favor of a more balanced home life, according to sociology professor Arlie R. Hochschild.
"In the competition between the home and the company, the company is winning," she said.
Hochschild is the author of a newly published book, "Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work," based on a three-year, in-depth study of 130 people in a major American corporation. She'll be signing books May 14 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Bear Student Store on campus.
"We're losing the battle for time at home; in fact, we're not fighting the battle," said Hochschild of the last 10 years of increasing tension between the demands of family and the demands of the workplace.
By joining the workforce on "male" terms, rather than pressuring men and companies to change, women are contributing to stripped-down families, often because to do otherwise would be to threaten their position at work, said Hochschild.
But that is not the only reason, she found. Women are also seeking the longer hours because the workplace feels more comfortable and less stressful than their own homes, she said.
A major finding that Hochschild did not anticipate was the extent to which home and family life had become like work to the parents she studied.
The psychological demands of modern family relationships, which often include the experience of divorce and blending of families, "call for emotional skills many people don't possess," said Hochschild.
"Meanwhile, work is a far more inviting place that it used to be," said Hochschild.
"We often imagine the worker as a cog in a machine of just a number. But modern management philosophies like 'total quality'-in Fortune 500 companies at least-are geared toward empowering the worker and making him or her feel appreciated.
"That's all to the good. The downside is that under certain circumstances, the family cannot compete."
Hochschild recommends a two-pronged attack on the time bind.
As a kind of first-aid for families, she said that a new form of family therapy is needed that looks not only at the parents' own mothers and fathers, but at the role of work. "The workplace is a player in family dynamics too," she said.
Over the longer term, however, Hochschild calls for collective action aimed at countering the powerful corporate investment in creating and sustaining an ethic of long working hours.
"In the 19th century, we brought the 10-hour day down to eight hours. Why not bring it down to seven, or at least stop it from expanding back up to nine?"