Frontiers

Continental Divide

Sociologist Jerry Jacobs shows how time itself is dividing working Americans in new ways.
April 2006

When surveying the national landscape, Penn sociologist Jerry Jacobs and NYU professor Kathleen Gerson point to the “dramatic changes in the ways Americans organize their work and family lives. ”In their study of family time pressures, The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality, Jacobs and Gerson argue that society’s “dilemmas and conflicts” come from the diversity of families in the workforce – from two wage earners to single mothers to workers without kids. Their research punctures the prevailing myth that Americans are working longer hours, suggesting that the time squeeze is far more nuanced.

“Understanding the average is important,” explains Jacobs, the Merriam Term Professor in Sociology, “but there are more exceptions to the rule than ever.” If you look at working families, instead of individual workers, the coauthors say, “time divides” – between the overworked and the underemployed, between women and men, between parents and non-parents – are apparent. “Many feel tremendous time pressures due to demanding jobs, especially in dual-career families,” explains Jacobs, “but others are looking for more work. Managers and professionals work very long weeks, but the work week among those with less education has not grown over the last 30 years.” The book makes many recommendations and the authors’ insights should find their way to the conference rooms of policymakers.