Gerson, Kathleen. The Unfinished Revolution: How a Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308|
|Issue:||Date: Spring-Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 1-2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: The Unfinished Revolution: How a Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Gerson, Kathleen|
Gerson, Kathleen. The Unfinished Revolution: How a Generation is
Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2010. xi + 297 pages. Cloth, $24.95.
Every semester when I ask my students, on the topic of integrating work and family in the course on work and organizations, how they or their families attempt to balance work and family life, the common response is: "Combining work and family is a tricky balancing act," or "It depends on individual or family situations, experiences, and aspirations." Sociologist Kathleen Gerson's The Unfinished Revolution focuses on this issue, providing a fresh perspective on the controversial public debate regarding the rise of single, two-paycheck, and same-sex family configurations. The vast changes in American family life have been blamed on declining morality and unhappy children. But does this popular notion tell the whole story? Gerson's groundbreaking research provides a vivid account of the gender and family revolution that has transformed American society, viewed through the prism of the children of the gender revolution.
The book begins with an introduction on the "Shaping of a New Generation" and then dovetails into two parts: "Growing Up in Changing Families" and "Facing the Future." What situations or experiences shaped the new generation? Most young adults today grew up in changing circumstances. First, they were "reared in households where volatile changes occurred when parents altered their ties to each other or to the wider world of work" (p. 4). Second, they grew up during a period of increasing divorce or were raised by a single mother or cohabiting parents. Third, the new generation came of age at a time when women's entry into the labor force was perceived as a challenge to the traditional pattern of home-centered motherhood. Lastly, these young adults grew up in a period
when a growing number of men faced unpredictable economic prospects, in terms of declining secure, well-paid careers. Consequently, the new generation has no well-defined path to follow and, therefore, have to wrestle with individual options and choices in the face of changes engendered by the gender and family revolution and its subsequent impact on vibrant and committed family and work life. These changes include the fact that marriage no longer guarantees the vow of commitment and permanence, nor is it the only option for bearing and rearing children. Most men no longer assume they can or will want to support a family on a single income; most women no longer assume or want to be stay-at-home morns. As Gerson writes: "Work and family shifts have created an ambiguous mix of new options and new insecurities, with growing conflicts between work and parenting, autonomy and commitment, time and money" (p. 7). Hence, it is up to young adults to develop innovative responses and find new answers to the new challenges.
The challenges facing young adults today comprise their response to three essential questions: first, the option between having a permanent relationship with one intimate partner, switching partners or remaining on their own. The second is the kind of balance to be struck between paid work and family. The third is how to share the challenge of earning a living and rearing children with a partner or others. The responses combine and fuse into three distinct outlooks: egalitarian, neo-traditional, and self-reliant ideals. A self-reliant outlook suggests the importance of personal autonomy even if that implies forgoing a lifelong partner. In facing the future, some young adults draw lessons from their parents' relationships and dread being stuck in an unhappy marriage. With work seen as essential to their survival, most women prefer self-reliance over economic dependence within a traditional family framework. The growing trend is to postpone marriage and focus first on establishing economic autonomy and independent lives.
On the other hand, neo-traditional men worry more about the costs equal sharing of domestic tasks would exact on their careers. While they support a woman's choice to work, they also want to be seen as the primary breadwinner. Gerson, however, notes that the new generation does not wish to create a new world of atomized and disconnected individuals. In fact, her study shows that "[m]ost prefer instead to build a life that balances autonomy and commitment in the context of satisfying work and egalitarian partnership" (p. 12). Admittedly, finding a middle ground between the competing devotions of family and work will, by no means, be a cakewalk. Undoubtedly, the irreversible forces of social change have undermined both stable marriage and clear gender boundaries. Regardless of the strategies women and men opt for, the overarching issue for them remains the importance of work as a central source of personal identity and financial survival. In pursuit of this quest, the new generation explore, in addition to traditional 9-5 work structures, new ways of working, including telecommuting, casual work settings close to home, and self-employment as possible options to balance work and family. On a general level, the realization of ideals subsumed in the various strategies requires the redefining of the ideal partner, building a work-family partnership, remaking family values, rejecting strict definitions of a "good" family, and moving beyond the culture wars.
To this end, Gerson proffers public policy shifts that value gender equality, flexibility, and balance by way of restructuring work and caretaking. With marital and economic uncertainty, the author opines that social support for egalitarian and flexible fusion of work and caretaking will certainly incentivize new generations to not only care for their children, but also realize their own ideals. The Unfinished Revolution challenges the declining morality perspective as a viable explanation for the vast changes in family life. The book is well researched and well written, and the author's use of the participants' voices is very illuminating. This important book deserves wide readership not just by scholars in the area of work and organizations, marriage and the family, but also by public policy experts and politicians.
Okori Uneke, PhD
Associate Professor of Behavioral Science
Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|