Winner of the 2015 Max Weber Award from the Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section of the American Sociological Association
Winner of the 2015 William T. Goode Distinguished Book Award from the Family Section of the American Sociological Association
Winner of the 2015 Distinguished Scholarly Book Award from the Labor and Labor Movements Section of the American Sociological Association
Life is routinely unpredictable. Control over one's time is a critical 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. In Unequal Time, sociologists Dan Clawson and Naomi Gerstel explore the ways in which social inequalities permeate the workplace, reverberating through a web of time in which the schedules of one person shape the schedules of others in ways that exemplify and often exacerbate differences between men and women, the privileged and disadvantaged.
Unequal Time investigates the connected schedules of four health sector occupations: professional doctors and nurses, and working-class EMTs and nursing assistants. While the work-family literature mostly examines the hours people work, Clawson and Gerstel delve into the process through which schedules are set, negotiated, and contested. They show how workers in all four occupations experience the effects of schedule uncertainty but do so in distinct ways, largely shaped by the intersection of gender and class. Doctors, who are largely male and professional, have significant control over their schedules, though they often claim otherwise, and tend to work long hours because they earn respect from their peers for doing so. By contrast, nursing assistants, primarily female and working-class, work demanding hours because they face penalties for taking time off, no matter how valid the reasons. Without institutional support, they often turn to co-workers to help create more orderly lives.
Unequal Time shows that the degree of control that workers hold over their schedules can either reinforce or challenge conventional gender roles. When male doctors work overtime, they often rely 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 to dedicate more time to home life. Surprisingly, the authors find that in the working class occupations, workers frequently undermine traditional gender roles. Male EMTs often take significant time off for child care, and female nursing assistants sometimes choose to work more hours to provide extra financial support for their families. Employers often underscore these disparities by allowing their upper-tier workers the flexibility that enables their gender roles at home, while low-wage workers are pressured to put their jobs before any unpredictable events they might face outside of work.
We tend to consider personal and work scheduling an individual affair, but Clawson and Gerstel put forward the provocative hypothesis that time in the workplace is both collective and highly unequal. A valuable resource for workers' advocates and policymakers alike, Unequal Time illustrates how social inequalities in the workplace shape the lives of workers and their families.
DAN CLAWSON is professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
NAOMI GERSTEL is a distinguished university professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.