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Second Shift in Sociology: Definition & Roles

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Instructor: Juli Yelnick

Juli has traveled the world engaging in cultural immersion experiences that bring her Master of Liberal Studies findings to light.

~'The Second Shift~' brought the idea of second shift to the forefront in the world of sociology. Examine the definition of and who works the second shift, how gender roles originated, the traditional and egalitarian strategies, and the meaning of role reversal in families. Updated: 09/07/2021

Who Works the Second Shift?

In her 1989 book entitled The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild explains that the household responsibilities that a wife and mother takes care of, aside from working her paid job, add up to at least 40 hours each week. The book and the sociological principle assert that even though Mom and Dad both have careers, it's usually Mom who also works the second shift at home, too. The second shift includes the work performed at home, in addition to the work performed in the professional sector.

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  • 0:01 Who Works the Second Shift?
  • 0:36 Where Did Gender Roles…
  • 1:29 Traditional and…
  • 2:35 Role Reversal
  • 3:18 Lesson Summary
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Where Did Gender Roles Originate?

A gendered division of labor is not a new concept. As we take a look back through human history, we can see long-standing tradition of divvying up work that needs to be done based on gender. It makes sense in most societies, particularly primitive societies that spend most of their time trying to survive, that the females (who physically must sit out some hunting trips to give birth every now and then) should take the bulk of the household chores. On the other hand, the males, who without exception never have to stay back to nurse a newborn, usually get on-the-go roles, such as tracking and shooting.

Even today, the traditional gendered division of labor exists around the world. The women of the Yanomami culture, an indigenous group found in the Amazon Rainforest, are responsible for all of the domestic duties. Conversely, the men are held responsible for going out on the hunt for meat.

Traditional and Egalitarian Strategies

When it works, it works. This basic arrangement of women nesting in the private sphere and men out circulating in the public sphere has been a functioning model of the gendered division of labor for millennia. Sure, there have been certain exceptions, such as during the world wars, when American women were allowed and encouraged to step up to the plate and fill in for the men who were off fighting for their country, but even then the women were expected to clock out of the factory at five and race home to cook dinner for the kids and mop that kitchen floor.

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