The WIP team is delighted to welcome a new regular contributor, Christine Williams, professor and chair of the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin.
Christine has published leading research on discrimination, homophobia, and sexual harassment in a wide variety of workplace settings. Her most recent book is Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality (University of California Press).
Christine has already posted on WIP three times as a guest contributor, on upgrading jobs in the retail industry, gender and intersectionality, and the financial crisis and graduate research in sociology. Her first post as a regular contributor, she discusses how irregular work schedules operate as a mechanism to reproduce gender and racial inequality in the workplace.
Today we are posting a four-part panel with four sociologists discussing a number of issues around the norms of what it means to be an ideal worker and how these relate to various work leave policies.
Julie Kmec kicks it off with a discussion of how Landon Donovan, one of the best living US soccer players, was cut from the US Men’s World Cup Team. She suggests that Donovan was cut as a penalty for taking a four-month sabbatical for family and R&R time, thus violating norms of being a dedicated worker, which are particularly strong in the US.
Among the many things that the American mythology holds to be special about the United States is a particularly strong work ethic. This, of course, is part of a larger narrative of rugged individualism. However dubious the idea of a uniquely American work ethic, it is certainly telling to examine how much Americans work compared with fellow workers in peer countries.
In terms of average annual hours worked per person, the US currently ranks 12th out of 34 OECD countries – that is, Americans work more per year than workers in 22 other OECD countries. The average Dutch worker clocks in 405 fewer hours per year than the average American worker! Yet, the Netherlands ranks ninth out of the 34 countries in GDP per capita, 15% above the OECD average and just five places behind the US. As economist Juliet Schor argued in a best-selling book over 20 years ago, Americans are overworked. Let us examine the most recent, comparative data in a bit more detail.
We are posting a four-part panel today, with five sociologists providing a health check on the sociology of work. Chris Warhurst begins the panel by noting that the inability of mainstream economics to predict or explain the 2007-8 financial crisis might provide an opening for the sociology of work to become more influential. Yet, across the UK and Australia, the study of work has been eclipsed in sociology by cultural and gender studies. Chris wonders if part of the problem is the lack of good ethnographic research by sociologists on knowledge workers like investment bankers.
In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof lamented the lack of influence of professors in “today’s great debates.” Many academics took to the blogosphere retorting that, yes, in fact, public intellectualism is alive and thriving in the academy. My colleague Chris Prener posted a more sympathetic response on this blog, arguing that having a twitter account and a blog does not make an academic a public intellectual. It is the content of the message, not the medium, which matters.
Both Chris and I agree with Kristof that there are not enough public intellectuals because of structural and cultural barriers within the academy, including a tenure process that rewards only academic output and places severe time constraints on the ability of academics to engage wider audiences.
Unfortunately, Kristof completely loses the plot when he suggests that economics is more engaged in “real-world debates” than sociology because the former has more Republican members (plus more “empiricism and rigor”).
Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman (Cornell, 2014).
This book analyzes the history of California’s decade-old paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which began operating in 2004. Based on original fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, it analyzes the impact of paid family leave on employers and workers in the most populous state in the U.S., and explores the implications for crafting future work-family policy for other states and for the nation as a whole.