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Challenges for Work and Family in the Twenty-First Century

Dana Vannoy and Paula J. Dubeck
Aldine de Gruyter: New York
0202305686 (pb)
232 pp.

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This collection of papers arises from a conference entitled 'Agenda for the 21st Century [American] Labor Force: Implications of Changing Family Structure, Diversity and Jobs'. This title very clearly indicates the central and unifying theme of the book: intellectually to conceptualise family and employment as integrally linked and practically to address the problems stemming from their lack of integration from the point of view of the employed family member and his/her dependants.

Besides useful introductory and concluding chapters the book has three sections. The first outlines the changes in family and employment in recent decades. Gerson gives a clear account of the gendered changes in employment of both women and men and castig ates those who wish to turn the clock back on the grounds that the employment of two partners in a household is now required to maintain living standards. Zinn endorses the importance of family diversity in a multi- (rather than bi-) racial society. Chapt ers by Wallace on 'downsizing' and Presser (on the 24 hour economy) analyse the driving force of the changes - the demand by employers for increased productivity (lower real wages for individual employees) and more flexibility (greater insecurity). A stro ng feature of this section is that changes in the family, especially the employment of mothers (whether partnered or not), is rooted in the demand for labour.

The second section looks at how selected individuals and households are adapting to these changes. Fernandez and Kim compare the human capital, labour force participation and economic well-being of white, black, hispanic and asian families. Raabe reports a study of part-time managers employed by the Federal Government claiming that part-time work can be a 'win-win' situation for both employer and employee under the right conditions. Such optimism is also present in Daly and Dienhart's study of fathers wh o have actively reduced work demands to 'find time' for their children. Perrin's study of the impact of downsizing on a still prosperous industrial town is less optimistic in stressing the undermining of community and local political involvement of those put out of work and those remaining.

The third section turns to policy issues including mothers and welfare and/or work (Parcel); the importance of early literacy (Farkas et al); sources of inequalities in promotion opportunities for women managers (Maume); the implications of employment cha nges for employer based health insurance (Cubbins); and the strengths and weaknesses of eldercare programmes provided by employers.

It is in section three that questions arise in the mind of the British (indeed European) reader. The whole book is very much about the United States with hardly a mention of any other society or indeed a global context. But the story told in section one a nd the examples given in section two are familiar and, apart from detail, applicable beyond the USA. One would then expect a section on policy to focus on the role of the state in generating and responding to the changes and problems described. This is no t found here, the issues are for companies and local communities rather than at state level. Whilst this provokes thought, I for one am not convinced that it is adequate. The book makes reference to an 'unfinished revolution' in the re-alignment of family , employment and the gender roles of men and women. But why is the revolution 'unfinished'? As mentioned earlier, a strength of section one is that the increasing participation of women in work and the corresponding decline in men as breadwinners is not s olely due to aspirations to equality but also to the demands of employers for a different kind of labour force. An intermittent theme of the book is that it may be in employers' interest to finish the revolution, people may be better workers if they are b etter family members. Yet this is unconvincing without a framework of institutional support provided by state intervention. Only in the last two pages is this hinted at (four day week, social wages for community work). As such the book is strong on diagno sis but weaker on prognosis of how family and employment might be integrated so that people prosper in both.

Ian Procter
University of Warwick

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