It's Dad's Turn To Do the Dishes

DO YOU plan to have a successful career? Do you plan to have a happy marriage?

Do you plan to have both? If so, you may be in for some trouble. So says Arlie Hochschild, professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home. Hochschild contends that students who are convinced they can have it all are "about to walk off a cliff that they don't even know is there."

Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home

by Arlie Hochschild

Viking Penguin

$18.95. 309 pages

That cliff is the "second shift"--housework and child care that husbands and wives must do after their first shift of work at their jobs. Tensions between work at home and job commitments, she writes, can lead to neglected children, marital unhappiness and, ultimately, divorce.

After reviewing extensive surveys of marriages and observing first-hand 15 working couples, Hochschild concludes that the feminist revolution has stalled--leaving mom exhausted and depressed and leaving modern marriage in a state of crisis.

"Women tend to talk more intently about being overtired, sick and emotionally drained," writes Hochschild. "These women talked about sleep the way a hungry person talks about food."

Hochschild argues that until men share the "second shift," the current generation of college students (female and male) will lead unhappy married lives. "In the last 40 years, many women have made a historic shift, into the economy," she writes. "Now it is time for a whole generation of men to make a second historic shift--into work at home."

UNTIL recently, women alone have had to deal with the conflicts between career and family life. Female students fretted about managing children and careers, while males rested comfortably with the knowledge that they could find wives to take care of their homes.

But the Ozzie and Harriet world is disappearing fast. Now men must also face the conflicts between market work and house work. Not only are wives less likely to tolerate an unfair division of domestic labor, but unbalanced marriages are less likely to be fulfilling.

Studies indicate that almost all American marriages impose a disproportionate burden of housework on the wife. Although the labor force participation of mothers with young children has skyrocketed in recent years--and now exceeds 50 percent--men have not adjusted to these trends by sharing housework and child care.

Instead, men married to women with careers do little more housework than those married to housewives. Even studies by conservative economists reveal that working women work longer hours than their husbands, when work at home is included.

But Hochschild makes clear that a loss for the wife isn't necessarily a gain for the husband. Second Shift tells the story of several families in which mothers, fathers and children alike suffer from the unequal division of household labor.

Most apparent is outright confrontation: "At 5:05, when Michael sat down as usual to read the paper and wait for her to prepare their dinner, Andrienne exploded in a burst of fury and tears. Why did his day entitle him to rest? Didn't her day count too?"

Second Shift also details the more subtle effects of women's overwork: a brewing resentment, declining communication between spouses, the creation of delusions to prevent breakdowns and lack of sex.

Perhaps most tragically, Hochschild tells of children torn apart by marital bitterness over housework. In one extreme example, a child's teacher reported that her pupil had no friends at all. The reason:her parents would not allow any other children to visit the home because they were too busy with their work.

THE easist way to dismiss Hochschild's argument is to believe that questions of career and housework should be resolved "just between the two of us." But Second Shift shows that changes at the social level are needed to save future marriages--our marriages.

Couples are more likely to adopt a fair division of labor if the Joneses across the street share the housework. Increasing the number of balanced marriages can thus have a ripple effect: more men sharing housework will change social norms and allow many more marriages to be arranged fairly.

But new attitudes may not be enough at a time when the corporate world revolves around the stereotypical one-earner family. A father who wants to share housework and child care may jeopardize his standing at the firm by taking time off to care for the kids.

Hochschild argues that companies must begin to provide alternatives to 60-hour weeks for fast-track employees, and must provide paternity and maternity leave and child care facilities. "In an age of divorce," she writes, "marriage itself can be at stake."

SECOND Shift has been rightly called a "seminal," "smashing" and "brilliant" work on the state of modern marriage. The tragic stories of working parents coping with careers and children are enough to give pause to any prospective newlywed. Second Shift powerfully raises the question of housework as an issue of happiness, and not just of fairness.

Hochschild's position on the "fairness" issue is clear from the outset; she derides the double standard that burdens women with work in the market and work in the home.

But Hochschild never says whether any legitimate reasons exist for an unequal distribution of housework. Is 50-50 the only just solution? Is it necessarily the happiest under all situations? Should couples automatically feel guilty if the sharing sometimes cannot be perfect?

Second Shift also falters when Hochschild's personal prejudices color her descriptions of the couples she observes. She tends to ascribe nefarious subconscious motives to minor actions that aren't necessary to prove her overall point. For example, when a husband in the study made a joke about housework, she accuses him of denying the problems in his home. (In fact, he did deny them, but not because of the joke.) At worst, Hochschild chastises a father as a bad parent for refusing to do a "camel walk" with his baby.

Hochschild views the family through the narrow lens of the second shift, failing to address factors other than housework that may be just as likely to cause marital discord. These other factors--such as domestic violence--seem to be more important for the poor families in the study than the rich ones.

Poor couples also seem more hesitant to acknowledge conflict over the second shift, although Hochschild demonstrates its importance in their marriages. It might seem that conflicts over housework and child-rearing would be more intense for those families which must do without baby-sitters and maids. But Second Shift does not deal with this discrepancy.

Issues of class remain peripheral to Hochschild's basic point that the second shift causes unhappiness, regardless of whether the couples perceive the second shift as a problem. And Hochschild makes this point convincingly through the well-documented and precisely explained observations of individual families.

When Hochschild weaves the case studies into the overall picture of marriage inthe United States--through reference to dozens of extensive surveys--Second Shift becomes the fascinating book that Betty Friedan said "should be required reading in every high school and college."

SECOND Shift leaves the reader depressed at the state of modern marriage and anxious about the future. Can anything be done? Will corporate America change? Will men be willing to sacrifice career goals for marital happiness?

When I interviewed Hochschild, she said that barriers that appear to be made of concrete are really made of sand. Envisioning "pro-family" changes in the American economy, she thinks more men will begin to share housework fairly and rationally.

In the meantime, Hochschild advises couples to confront honestly issues of housework and career before having children and even before marriage. Men who hope to talk women out of their career goals just as they may have talked them out of their virginity may find themselves talking to a divorce lawyer, she writes.

"[The second shift] is really an inescapable issue," she said. "Once we see that that is true, we'll have to organize and make some changes."