February 06, 2015

The Second Shift and Workplace Policies

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

In 1989, Arlie Russell Hochschild published her groundbreaking text The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. For eight years, from 1980-1988, Hochschild and her team of researchers interviewed fifty dual-career heterosexual couples, and observed twelve families at home.

In these relationships, she shows that in addition to their jobs in the formal economy, women also engage in a “second shift” of work at home; they take care of most of the household (cleaning and cooking), childcare (homework, bathing, etc.), and additional family care responsibilities (such as caring for elderly parents). As many sociologists note, this unequal distribution of unpaid labor is largely connected to traditional gender roles.

Gender roles can be understood as a set of social and behavioral norms and duties that are socially ascribed to individuals of a certain sex. These roles can operate differently within various cultures, during different periods of history, and even depending on circumstance. They are not only embodied by individuals of a certain sex, but are also framed and policed by others within one’s social networks, and by broader understandings of gender within one’s culture.

Fast-forward 25 years to a recent study in the American Sociological Review (ASR) that found that most young American heterosexual individuals “would prefer to share both work and domestic duties equally with their spouses.” Although these conceptions of family duties may have changed to a more egalitarian conception of the “second shift,” the study also found that workplace policies regarding family leave, subsidized childcare, and flexible schedules influence the ways that women and men view egalitarian relationships.

In the groups where workforce policies are more progressive, women and men said they agreed with egalitarian relationships. Yet, in workplaces with more restrictive policies, women and men tended to support more traditional gender roles. This study highlights the ways that social norms (particularly in the workforce) can frame individual action and gender roles within relationships.

But how do these policies help to transform gender roles? In European countries with progressive family-friendly policies, such as 12 months of paid maternity leave and government-sponsored childcare, women entered the workforce at higher rates than in the United States. Gender roles, however, were not transformed and in some cases they become reified.

For instance, women outside the U.S. tend to work more part time jobs than their American counterparts (who outpace other countries in terms of women in high-level jobs), work in lower-paying industries, and often come up against a hardened glass ceiling. In addition, rather than leading to more egalitarian households, women in countries with family-friendly policies also tend to take on the bulk of the housework and child rearing because they have such lengthy maternity leaves.

As the above ASR study highlights, if these policies are progressive for both men and women we may begin to see a shift towards more egalitarian relationships and a change in gender roles and norms. For instance, we know the benefits of maternity leave – it gives mothers time to heal after childbirth, keep up on frequent doctor visits for the newborn baby, it increases the amount of time that women breastfeed, and decreases infant mortality.

In addition, studies show that policies such as paternity leave increase male participation in their household, enhance women’s participation in the workforce, and promote gender equity in both the home and work settings.Although fathers may not need time to physically heal, they do need time to bond with their child, support the child’s mother, and participate in childcare and household responsibilities.

Some U.S. states, such as California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, have implemented paid paternity leave. Yet it is still too early to tell if these workplace policies will lead to more egalitarian gender roles at home.

Do you think ideas regarding gender roles are changing among younger generations? How might changing conceptions of the “second shift” influence future work opportunities, or family structures? How might the “second shift” operate differently within same-sex partnerships?


I believe ideas regarding gender roles are indeed changing with the times and among younger generations, like anything else. Although many individuals still hold traditional beliefs, we can see a shift of women attending college at a higher rate than men, which I feel will have a heavy impact on the job market and who is obtaining what types of jobs and bringing home what type of money. Despite gender (and other; race, sexual orientation, etc.) wage inequality, if women are attending college at higher rates there is eventually going to be a shift in job rates as well, and depending on the jobs, wage rates people are taking home. That being said, I think women who make more money and/or work more hours are not only going to want their spouses to contribute to the "second shift," but are going to demand it as it will be essential in raising a child/putting food on the table/living in a clean environment/etc.

Regarding same sex partnerships, literature suggests individuals in these relationships share a more equal divide of household labor (sociological research, sorry don't have citation off the top of my head). I still believe one partner will always be working slightly more than the other and nothing can be perfectly balanced. However, work may be better divided, since differences in gender norms don't exist in these relationships.

Thanks for reading!

Super work word done by you .I really appreciate your work because its very helpful for us.

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