Conflict between work and family life is an all too familiar experience for many Americans. The difficult choices facing women who combine paid work with childcare are the subject of a deluge of books and articles in addition to an ongoing public debate about how women and men should balance their work and family commitments. Although we know a great deal about the social and cultural environment fueling these contradictions among middle-class and upper middle class women, we know little about the forces that influence poor and low-income women. Work and Family Commitments of Low-Income and Impoverished Women addresses this omission and gives voice to women in poverty as it traces the moral and cultural structures that help shape the meaning and value of paid work and motherhood among a group of mothers who rely on welfare or a combination of low-wage work and welfare to provide and care for their families. This portrayal of poor women’s lives rarely enters the work-life debate over women’s choices, generally characterized as between mothers who have to work versus those who choose to. Judith Hennessy puts low-income women front and center to shed light on less explored aspects of the moral and cultural foundations of contemporary work and family conflict from interviews and survey data of a group of low-income and poor mothers on and off welfare.
Hennessey explores the paradox in American society where combining paid work with caring for children continues to generate considerable ambivalence (and often guilt) on the part of married middle-class mothers for devoting too much time to paid work and supposedly neglecting their children. While poor and working class mothers who might otherwise rely on welfare are relegated to working at low-wage jobs outside the home in fulfillment of their family responsibilities.
Lexington Books; March 2015
- ISBN 9780739186800
- Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure EPUB format
- Title: Work and Family Commitments of Low-Income and Impoverished Women
- Author: Judith Hennessy
Imprint: Lexington Books
In The Press
Noting the paradox that professional, well-educated, married, upper- and middle-class women are praised for trading career for the 'mommy track' and staying home to care for their children, poor and impoverished mothers can gain moral worth only if they work outside the home, the author seeks to examine family and work balance for these mostly overlooked women. Based on 39 in-depth interviews and over 200 survey questionnaires with a diversity of poor women, young and older, married, divorced, and single, the analysis follows several cultural schemas organized around work and family commitments. Sociologist Hennessy examines welfare policy in light of negative stereotypes associated with women on welfare as they navigate the welfare bureaucracy to fulfill work requirements in order to stay on public assistance. The largely qualitative study, built around poignant life stories, is complemented by a quantitative analysis of welfare data. The study concludes with implications of the findings for work and family study and public policy, including a plea for more sensitive approaches to studying poor women, as well as greater appreciation for the complexity of their lives . . . the author finds that all mothers, poor and affluent, desire meaningful work without having to sacrifice the well-being of their children. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.
About The Author
Judith Hennessy is associate professor of sociology and social services and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Central Washington University.