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Gender Divisions and Working Time in the New Economy

Changing Patterns of Work, Care and Public Policy in Europe and North America

Edited by Diane Perrons, Colette Fagan, Linda McDowell, Kath Ray and Kevin Ward

Contemporary societies are characterised by new and more flexible working patterns, new family structures and widening social divisions. This book explores how these macro-level changes affect the micro organisation of daily life, with reference to working patterns and gender divisions in Northern and Western Europe and the United States.
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Chapter 8: Mothers’ Work–Life Balance: Individualized Preferences or Cultural Construction?

Simon Duncan


Simon Duncan INTRODUCTION: STRUCTURE, PREFERENCE AND THE WORK–LIFE BALANCE1 For individualization theorists, structural concepts like class and gender are ‘shell institutions’ (Giddens, 1999) or – more colourfully – ‘zombie categories’, which are ‘dead and still alive’ (Beck, 2002: 203). The form of such structures still exists, but the content has changed where people are now the reflexive authors of their own biographies, rather than following structurally determined pathways. True enough, these reflexive individuals are still subject to inequalities and constraints of various kinds, but structures of class and gender are dead classifications from the past, given a sort of shadow life by the individualized processes through which people construct their lives. While the ‘grand theorists’ of this position remain infuriatingly over-abstract, Catherine Hakim (1996, 2000, 2002) has operationalized this view as ‘preference theory’, dealing with women’s employment behaviour and based on detailed empirical work. According to Hakim, ‘affluent and liberal modern societies provide opportunities for diverse lifestyle preferences to be fully realized [so that] women [have] genuine choices as to what to do with their lives’ (Hakim, 2000: 273). Social structures of class and gender are at best marginal for social explanation. This response fits well with a long period in Britain during which social structure – especially class – has been unfashionable in social science both as a concept and as an empirical tool. In turn this coincided with politically dominant notions of a ‘classless society’ promulgated by British governments in the 1980s and 1990s, and chimes in well with the current...

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