Second Shift

Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung’s book, The Second Shift, focuses on the ways in which women and men in two-career marriages juggle both work pressures and their families’ needs. It focuses greatly on this topic, which is often viewed as mundane in the grand scheme of issues facing the American family. The authors place a great deal of emphasis on the struggles to deal with the demands of work and the demands of the home in a manner that questions the concepts of work, family and gender in a way that has been highly debated and cited since the book’s initial publication in the late 1980s. In presenting a new description of the life so many individuals live but barely have time to understand, Hochschild and Machung validate the struggles of the working woman as they attempt to resolve the “stalled revolution” of shared responsibility between themselves and the men in their lives in terms of duties at home and in the workplace.

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Analysis and Reaction

In Chapter 1, “A Speed-up in the Family,” the authors note that among employed people with families, women often work a “double day” or “second shift.” This second shift, which equals an extra month per year, is spent doing housework and providing child care for their families, which is something the male-counterparts in these women’s relationships do not do. The taking on of this second shift was done when women began to take on a stronger presence in the workforce. As times of economic hardship fell, bringing on a depletion in earnings from the generally “male bread-winners,” women made the move into the paid labor force to compensate for budget shortfalls within the home. However, regardless of this move, childcare and housework was not doled out to another individual, but remained the responsibility of the now-working woman, who was forced to compensate for lost time with the taking on of the aforementioned second shift in her new lifestyle of balancing work and family.

This concept is added to in Chapter 2 with the mention of the demands placed upon women in their new roles. The authors note that men and women adapt to different gender strategies to make sense of conflicting role demands, and the sense of need for women to feel as though they must adapt to the role of “supermom” by strategizing to become a working mom who does it all. This is in stark contrast to the traditionalist who believes that the man has his base at work and wants his wife’s base in the home (Hochschild and Machung, 2003, p.15). Chapter 3 expands on this conflict with its notation of the demands of work and family that are placed upon women, and are often viewed as women’s personal issues on an individualistic level. Rather than viewing the working woman and her taking on of the second shift as a social problem that is shared by women and men across the globe, the stigma of this issue as a problem stemming from the individual woman struggling to balance it all has unfortunately become the norm.

While this stigma is a harsh one that affects not only the stress levels of the women represented in this group but their self-worth as well, the fact remains that it is the opinion of many individuals who believe that women should be able to balance it all, despite the fact that many of these individuals form their opinions without having to walk in the shoes of the women they nonchalantly judge. Such an opinion is seen in Chapter 4’s look at Nancy and Evan Holt, a couple with struggling ideologies. While Nancy fights to assert that the two share the duties of the household, Evan’s excessive leisure time and transitional ideology allow the reader to understand that the distribution of tasks may not be as equal as the Holts would like to believe.

The gender struggles in terms of who has the provider role in the family is one that remains a heated issue in viewing all the cases that the authors cite. For instance, in looking at the case of Frank and Carmen Delacorte, a couple that both works to make ends meet within the family, while both couples bring in significant paychecks, Carmen attempts to alter the view of her work within the home to meet the couple’s traditional ideologies. While Carmen brings in a significant portion of the family’s earnings, she feels the need to fake incompetence and act in a manner submissive to her husband in order to make him feel he has met his standards in enacting the role of the traditional male within the family. In her belief that her equal contribution to her family does not measure up to that of her husband’s, Carmen aligns herself with the gender roles that have traditionally been placed upon her by society

A far more contemporary view of the second shift structure within the two-career home is seen in Chapter 8 in viewing the case of the Steins. Both lawyers, Seth and Jessica aim to have an egalitarian household in terms of finances and the second-shift, although Seth’s alignment with this ideal is not as strong as Jessica’s alignment. While such an existence may seem to be ideal for most contemporary families, the fact remains that the Steins are able to balance their roles with their included heavy reliance on paid help for housework and childcare needs (Hochschild and Machung, 2003, p126-129).

Chapter 10 focuses again on a mainly egalitarian family — the Alstons — who assert themselves to sharing both the work and the household needs. However, as in so many situations, Carol, the wife often finds herself cutting back in her work and stepping up considerably to care for the children. In this chapter, it becomes clear the resilience of many women in such gender roles and the inability for most men to every truly adapt to the idea of equality in terms of work in the second shift.

The aforementioned case studies provide an opening for the authors to discuss the repercussions of disagreement as to the second shift, involving marital tensions and divorce. Hochschild and Machung note that the inability for many men to accept the fact that women’s roles have changed faster than men’s roles contributes largely to marital tension and can ultimately be the catalyst that leads to divorce. The authors then take the focus to men who are willing to take on the duties of the second shift, nothing that this minority hold an opinion far different than those men who generally have restrictive ideas about what it means to be a good father, including the real needs of their children and mistaken ideas about how their children are cared for (Hochschild and Machung, 2003, p. 238-40).


In viewing Hochschild and Machung’s work, it is clear to see that although the roles of women in terms of the workforce and the family have changed significantly over the years, men have generally been lax in accepting this fully. While women continue to rise up to meet their male counterparts in the home in terms of their economic contribution, the fact remains that they must continue to rise far beyond their husbands in terms of taking on the second-shift duties that have largely been attributed to the traditional role of the woman. Though this fact remains a hard one to accept, especially in the minds of feminists, the fact remains that women must continue to take on larger roles to compensate for lacking action by husbands and rise up to the challenge of contributing to the home in ways and effectiveness that would make the average traditionalist man’s head spin should he be given these tasks for even one day.


Hochschild, Arlie and Machung, Anne. The Second Shift. New York, NY: Penguin,

2003. Print.

The Second Shift