The Time-Squeeze in American Families:
From Causes to Solutions
What has caused this increased sense of being pressed for time? There are
several possible answers to this questions, and Ive outlined three
answers here. These are not necessarily competing hypotheses, but they clearly
highlight different themes or elements of this story, which may or may not be
First, of course, is the contention that we simply work too muchor,
more specifically, that work hours have increased over time. This is probably
the most familiar account of the time-squeeze, both because of important books
such as Hochschilds The Time Bind and Schors The
Overworked American and because many people in dual-earner couples
energetically speak to this theme themselves, as they recount doing a job that
entails the responsibilities of two or three employees before restructuring.
Still, this story is somewhat controversial, as some scholars fail to find a
real increase in the average work week with the best data sets.
The second story highlights the fact that even if hours of work havent
changed, the fact that workers are increasingly married to each otherif
married at allmeans that relatively few workers can enjoy the services of
a full-time, stay-at-home spouse. This is what Kathleen Christenson has called
the new mathematics of the family: for dual-earner families with kids its
two parents and three jobs, two paid, and one unpaid. Clearly, the lack
of the stay-at-home partner may in itself make people increasingly harried,
even if they, in fact, work fewer hours than their fathers did.
A third and related story has to do less with work hours themselves and more
to do with preferences for work hoursthat is, what people want.
The story of preferences is an important one because preferences lie at the
center of the whole definition of being time-squeezed: that is, working more
than one would like to work. Clearly, there are two variables in the
equationactual behavior, on the one hand (which, as Ive indicated,
has received considerable attention), and, on the other hand, preferences. It
may be the case, for example, that work hours preferences have declined over
time, especially given the rise of dual-earner families and the three jobs for
two people. Such a decline in work hours preferences could explain the rise in
the time-squeeze just as well as a change in actual behavior.
Unfortunately, however, we dont have data on trends in work
hour preferences. Yet, the question of work hours preferences remains largely
unexplored. Much of my own recent research, some of which Ill describe
here, has made some preliminary steps into this terrain, documenting, first,
what it is that people say that they want and, second, how well their
preferences are met. That is, how preferences interact with the
institutionalized structures of work and thereby result in certain behavioral