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The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America

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In the controversial public debate over modern American families, the vast changes in family life--the rise of single, two-paycheck, and same-sex parents--have often been blamed for declining morality and unhappy children. Drawing upon pioneering research with the children of the gender revolution, Kathleen Gerson reveals that it is not a lack of "family values," but rigid In the controversial public debate over modern American families, the vast changes in family life--the rise of single, two-paycheck, and same-sex parents--have often been blamed for declining morality and unhappy children. Drawing upon pioneering research with the children of the gender revolution, Kathleen Gerson reveals that it is not a lack of "family values," but rigid social and economic forces that make it difficult to have a vibrant and committed family and work life. Despite the entrance of women into the workforce and the blurring of once clearly defined gender boundaries, men and women live in a world where the demands of balancing parenting and work, autonomy and commitment, time and money are left largely unresolved. Gerson finds that while an overwhelming majority of young men and women see an egalitarian balance within committed relationships as the ideal, today's social and economic realities remain based on conventional--and now obsolete--distinctions between breadwinning and caretaking. In this equity vacuum, men and women develop conflicting strategies, with women stressing self-reliance and men seeking a new traditionalism. With compassion for all perspectives, Gerson argues that whether one decides to give in to traditionally imbalanced relationships or to avoid marriage altogether, these approaches are second-best responses, not personal preferences or inherent attributes, and they will shift if new options can be created to help people achieve their egalitarian aspirations. The Unfinished Revolution offers clear recommendations for the kinds of workplace and community changes that would best bring about a more egalitarian family life--a new flexibility at work and at home that benefits families, encourages a thriving economy, and helps women and men integrate love and work. Praise for the Hardcover: "Over the past three decades, social change has blown apart the old-fashioned ideal of the nuclear family--and Gerson has set out to map where the pieces have landed." --New York Post "Valuable for the abundance and candor of the testimony from this unmoored generation pioneering through radically altered conceptions of personal and professional life." --Publishers Weekly "This is not a battle that can be won with legal challenges or legislation. Yes, it would undoubtedly be greatly aided by the passage of major social policies such as universal child care. But at its core, this is a fight that plays out within homes and between partners. And as Gerson's research makes clear, the fight has not changed all that dramatically in the past 30 years." --The American Prospect


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In the controversial public debate over modern American families, the vast changes in family life--the rise of single, two-paycheck, and same-sex parents--have often been blamed for declining morality and unhappy children. Drawing upon pioneering research with the children of the gender revolution, Kathleen Gerson reveals that it is not a lack of "family values," but rigid In the controversial public debate over modern American families, the vast changes in family life--the rise of single, two-paycheck, and same-sex parents--have often been blamed for declining morality and unhappy children. Drawing upon pioneering research with the children of the gender revolution, Kathleen Gerson reveals that it is not a lack of "family values," but rigid social and economic forces that make it difficult to have a vibrant and committed family and work life. Despite the entrance of women into the workforce and the blurring of once clearly defined gender boundaries, men and women live in a world where the demands of balancing parenting and work, autonomy and commitment, time and money are left largely unresolved. Gerson finds that while an overwhelming majority of young men and women see an egalitarian balance within committed relationships as the ideal, today's social and economic realities remain based on conventional--and now obsolete--distinctions between breadwinning and caretaking. In this equity vacuum, men and women develop conflicting strategies, with women stressing self-reliance and men seeking a new traditionalism. With compassion for all perspectives, Gerson argues that whether one decides to give in to traditionally imbalanced relationships or to avoid marriage altogether, these approaches are second-best responses, not personal preferences or inherent attributes, and they will shift if new options can be created to help people achieve their egalitarian aspirations. The Unfinished Revolution offers clear recommendations for the kinds of workplace and community changes that would best bring about a more egalitarian family life--a new flexibility at work and at home that benefits families, encourages a thriving economy, and helps women and men integrate love and work. Praise for the Hardcover: "Over the past three decades, social change has blown apart the old-fashioned ideal of the nuclear family--and Gerson has set out to map where the pieces have landed." --New York Post "Valuable for the abundance and candor of the testimony from this unmoored generation pioneering through radically altered conceptions of personal and professional life." --Publishers Weekly "This is not a battle that can be won with legal challenges or legislation. Yes, it would undoubtedly be greatly aided by the passage of major social policies such as universal child care. But at its core, this is a fight that plays out within homes and between partners. And as Gerson's research makes clear, the fight has not changed all that dramatically in the past 30 years." --The American Prospect

30 review for The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    I was recommended this book after I asked Johanna Wyn if she had read Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream during a lecture she gave on the ‘Youth Transitions Project’ she leads. I’ll start this review with a quick summary of her project. The Youth Transitions Project is a longitudinal study tracking Gen X and Y people from their last year of high school on into their ‘real life’. It has found evidence for all of the myths you’ve read about them – that they are commitment s I was recommended this book after I asked Johanna Wyn if she had read Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream during a lecture she gave on the ‘Youth Transitions Project’ she leads. I’ll start this review with a quick summary of her project. The Youth Transitions Project is a longitudinal study tracking Gen X and Y people from their last year of high school on into their ‘real life’. It has found evidence for all of the myths you’ve read about them – that they are commitment shy, that they are the ‘me’ generation, that they are unsettled and that they seem to want to remain children for far too long – as manifest in all of the obvious other things they are renowned for, they live at home, they expect to be supported, they flit their lives away. They are pathetic creatures, obviously. Where did we go wrong? These myths seem even a little plausible until you talk to them, of course, which is the point of Youth Transitions. Then you find that they are the logical product of a world gone mad. They would dearly love to move out and start their lives, and they would jump at the chance, if it wasn’t for what seems to be the worldwide housing crisis. (A crisis so great that there was even talk in the Guardian this week of the risk of middle class homelessness in Britain. Not that I want it to appear that social issues only become real when they effect the middle class – but if a family consisting of two adults, both of whom are at work, does not guarantee a roof over their heads then there is something fundamentally, radically wrong.) Youth Transitions asks kids what they want from life, and mostly what they want is what every generation has always wanted – a stable relationship, kids, a house, security, fun times, some sense of control – you know, exactly the kinds of things that our new and improved society seems designed to deny them. What with needing a four-year university degree majoring in the textile strength of metals to get a job as the Assistant Staple Remover for the Manager of Photocopy Services in the mail room the time between getting qualified and earning enough to actually start your life has blown out. This is a situation made worse by the fact that people are either under or over-employed (there is a cute line in this book that lawyers now see 40 hours a week as part time employment) and either way they are unlikely to earn enough to consider buying a place, having a stable relationship or even have kids unless they are quite poor – a point I’ll come back to. The individual costs get paid in physical and mental illness, something the study documents in detail. What is most interesting about Youth Transitions is that it doesn’t have to be this way. This study has a Canadian twin and that shows that Canadian Gen X and Ys are much more likely to be in a relationship and to have started a family and to be settled than their Australian counterparts. It is not that Australian youth are dysfunctional, it is that more than a decade of radical free market ideology of dog eat dog has brought about in practice all of the societal evils that those who most support these views complain about in theory. The rule of thumb, of course, being that the more a politician talks about the importance of family the more their policies are likely to destroy any possibility of you ever having one. This book is also concerned with the views of Gen X and Y and is the result of a series of focused interviews with a range of young adults in New York. Chosen so as to provide a cross-section of the population – divided by gender, class and ethnicity (and also intentionally interviewing people who grew up outside New York, although living there at the time of the interviews) – the point is to hear what kids born after the sexual revolution of the 1970s make of the world. What is most interesting is that the appeal of the traditional family – a homemaker and a breadwinner and a baby makes three – appears to have rapidly diminished as even an ideal worth striving for. If there is one thing likely to trump the drudgery of so much of modern employment, it is the lobotomy of a life as a housewife. Few of those surveyed, even the most conservative, saw being stuck at home for the rest of their lives bringing hubby his pipe and slippers all that appealing. And that didn’t only go for the women – the men also found the idea of being married to such a woman as much less than ideal. What people want as their ideal is an equal relationship, based on love and trust, where both share and contribute to bringing home the bacon and cooking the bacon once it’s there. The problem is that even if the figures related to divorce are not as bad as they are sometimes made out (it is very hard to know if 50% of all marriages end in divorce until all marriages have ended), what is certain is that few of us see a wedding-ring as a handcuff anymore. And knowing that your partner may not be your life partner means needing to take precautions. There is the ideal – “Darling, we will be so happy together” – and there is the reality – “It’s just a prenup, darling, if you loved me you’d sign”. It is not that such agreements are the most likely outcome, what is likely, though, is that both males and females will take off their rose-coloured glasses before getting married long enough to make sure that if their ideal isn’t realised that doesn’t mean they are left ‘holding the baby’, so to speak. And before you think this is a function of the types of families the people themselves were raised in, the most surprising statistics here are how often young people reject the family structures of the families they themselves were raised in. The statistic that has really taken my breath away is that over 40 per cent of those brought up in ‘intact’ families would have preferred their parents had separated. But if men and women are choosing fallback positions just in case, that does not mean they are making the same choices. Women are much more likely to want to make sure they have a career – so that if they need to be independent they can be. Men still tend to see themselves as the main breadwinners and therefore the sacrifices they are prepared to make tend to be those that involve them spending more and more time at work and less with their family (even their hypothetical families). To be able to do this, men need women who will give up their career or job to support their husband’s career or job – but women know they can’t afford to do this as the sooner they are ‘self-reliant’ the better their chances of both a economic security and a secure relationship. A quick game of catch 22 anyone? There have been major economic shifts since the 1970s. Women are much less likely to be able to spend a lot of time out of the labour market and are much more unlikely to actually want to. But there are only so many hours in the day. Although there appears to be some evidence men are taking on more caring responsibilities (men being more likely to ‘look after the kids’ than to do other forms of housework), the female ‘double-shift’ is still the major reality. In fact, few of the support structures that exist in society have kept up with the fundamental change in family structures that have taken place since the 1970s. There are very many more single parent homes, duel-income homes and neotraditional homes (where women may well still be expected to be doormats, but at least now they are doormats who bring home some money too, if not quite so much as to embarrass the hubby), all of which take the ‘little woman’ out of her ‘proper domain’. Having done that you might expect society would see the need to cut her some slack. But that is not the case. Childcare, family support structures, community and employment all seem to be based on a ‘reality’ that no longer exists – that is, that there is a little woman dressed in a pinny and baking in the kitchen in every home. This increasingly encourages middleclass women in particular to put off having children until their mid-thirties, when they hope they will have enough economic security to make such a decision ‘safe’. Working class women tend to have children earlier, but they are also responding to economic realities, and psychological factors that are necessitated by these economic factors. If most ways to prove yourself an adult in our society involve money (get a job, buy a house, wear nice clothes) and you cannot afford any of those things, you can always have a child and automatically be granted adult status by definition – the relationship between agency and structure (between our free will and how this is constrained within social pressures and constraints) once again comes to the fore. As Marx said somewhere – we may make our own future, but we never do so out of whole cloth. That is particularly true today where we patch together our lives as best we can. The notion of an ideal worker is also interestingly stuck in the 1950s. Perhaps there was a time when we could dedicate ourselves fully to our company – perhaps this might even have remained possible after companies stopped being loyal in return. But when it now takes two incomes to provide for a family it is impossible to have two people fully dedicated to their jobs and have a family. There has been lots of talk about work/life balance – but remarkably little action. So we now have a situation where women want autonomy and men want a woman to support them in succeeding in their career and the contradictions involved are heightened by the fact our institutions assume 1950s family structures that not only no longer exist, but that no one would want even if they did. Which families work? It is very hard to tell. There are so many pressures on families today that predicting which will work and which will fail is beyond our powers of anything more than guessing. If we can’t predict from the seed which plant will grow healthy and which will wither, we can make fairly good guesses from how they grow. The successful families are most likely to be those which are prepared to change, prepared to act outside gender stereotypes and to act in ways that mutually support each other. This should be self-evident and not really need to be said – the fact it is not self-evident says a lot about the problems we face. This book quotes some research that suggests that families have changed more in the last 50 years or so than they did in the last thousand. I don’t know how true that is – but we do need to change more. A society that does not provide structures to enable its citizens to have and to care for and to raise their children does not have a future.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    This was interesting and a quick read, though somewhat repetitive at times. I especially liked the discussion of the ideal relationship vs. fallback options. The men and women in this study mostly agreed they'd prefer a flexible, egalitarian relationship, but if for whatever reason that didn't work out, men would then try for a traditional male breadwinner/female caretaker relationship while women would try for a self-reliant situation. The interview excerpts and analysis in those sections were This was interesting and a quick read, though somewhat repetitive at times. I especially liked the discussion of the ideal relationship vs. fallback options. The men and women in this study mostly agreed they'd prefer a flexible, egalitarian relationship, but if for whatever reason that didn't work out, men would then try for a traditional male breadwinner/female caretaker relationship while women would try for a self-reliant situation. The interview excerpts and analysis in those sections were great. 3.5 stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Online

    HOME WORK Ronnie Steinberg The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work and Gender in America By Kathleen Gerson Oxford University Press SOME HALF A CENTURY AFTER Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy modeled traditional father-headed family life for the nation, Kathleen Gerson’s Unfinished Revolution analyzes how today’s ordinary women and men, ages 18 to 32, think about the kinds of families they came from and the kinds they expect to launch. Gerson chose her sample carefully.Sh HOME WORK Ronnie Steinberg The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work and Gender in America By Kathleen Gerson Oxford University Press SOME HALF A CENTURY AFTER Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy modeled traditional father-headed family life for the nation, Kathleen Gerson’s Unfinished Revolution analyzes how today’s ordinary women and men, ages 18 to 32, think about the kinds of families they came from and the kinds they expect to launch. Gerson chose her sample carefully.She wanted a close look at young people who came of age during an era of increasing labor-force participation by women, rising divorce rates and unstable employment. She called her diverse sample “children of the gender revolution” and included those raised in three types of families: single head-of-household, traditional and dual-earner. It turned out that original family composition didn’t predict a whole lot. Almost half of those brought up in single head-ofhousehold families thought their parents’ divorce was for the best; 40 percent of those raised in traditional homes also thought it would have been better if their parents had divorced. While fully 80 percent of those brought up in dual-career families believed this the best option, a slight majority of those from traditional families thought it would have been better if their mothers had worked. Most agreed that the concept of family was fluid and that the most successful families had been the most flexible in adapting to changing circumstances. What, then, do these young people seek for themselves? Almost all wanted a marriage-like relationship; nine of 10 wanted children. As they described their ideal relationship, Gerson found they held a higher set of standards than their parents did. The majority— female and male— sought a committed and egalitarian relationship that allowed for flexible roles and room for personal autonomy. These attitudes were held by 75 percent of those from dualearner families, 90 percent from singlehead-of-household families and 66 percent from traditional families. Nonetheless, most doubted their ability to achieve their ideals. As Gerson puts it, personal ideals are “colliding with resistant nstitutions.” These young people feared the time demands of a successful career, the unreliability of partners, the lack of reliable child care. As a result, they have developed “fallback strategies.” And here is where women and men diverged: The majority of women see work as essential to survival while looking at marriage as “optional or reversible.” Pushed to the wall, they prefer self-reliance over economic dependence, though a third said they were willing to abandon self-reliance as a way to maintain their committed relationship—but only for a period of time. In contrast, three of four men in her sample considered breadwinning the “most reasonable alternative.” Gerson found that her subjects dismissed collective solutions, even those who recognized that the workfamily trade-off comes from outdated institutional arrangements. Regardless of their politics, this generation prefers private solutions; they naively look for the few jobs with significant autonomy, seek quick success or trade money for time. Happily, they reject the traditional family as the only “good” family, but the future of work-family arrangements remains unclear—and the gender revolution unfinished. RONNIE STEINBERG is a professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eira

    The most interesting chapter was the one on men, titled "Men's Resistance to Equal Sharing." What Gerson learned from the interviewees (majority of whom were heterosexual) was that though most of the young people interviewed named as their ideal a relationship in which things are shared equally, men and women had different fallback strategies. For women, the preferred strategy was self-reliance, which meant relying on their own earnings and even having children on their own if relationships fail The most interesting chapter was the one on men, titled "Men's Resistance to Equal Sharing." What Gerson learned from the interviewees (majority of whom were heterosexual) was that though most of the young people interviewed named as their ideal a relationship in which things are shared equally, men and women had different fallback strategies. For women, the preferred strategy was self-reliance, which meant relying on their own earnings and even having children on their own if relationships failed. For a minority of women, the preferred fallback strategy was neotraditionalism, meaning a husband who would be the primary breadwinner and a wife who would take care of the household and kids and put her career on hold if need be. In contrast, for men the preferred fallback strategy was neotrationalism. The second most popular fallback strategey for men was self-reliance, but for men that meant freedom from family obligations alltogether, that is, having no family and no kids. So there is a clear gender difference in what kinds of choices the men and women interviewed could see themselves making in the future. Gerson points out that the way the men rationalized the neotraditional arrangement made it seem that it was a choice dictated by the circumstances, the structures of the society and work life, and they didn't really see a way out of it. In practice, the neotraditional strategy means that the breadwinning men will have to rely on their spouse to be the primary caretaker, especially since many of them also believed that only a parent is a good enough caretaker for the kids, that is, they would not hire outside help or send their children to day care. So despite the ideal of equal sharing, many of the men felt they would have to become the primary breadwinner. Interestingly enough, though the saw their spouses decisions about their careers as a 'choice', they did not see their own decision to be the primary breadwinner as a 'choice' but an 'obligation'.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonna Higgins-Freese

    In my new favorite phrase from Amanda Ripley, I thought much of this book was "radically obvious:" kids are scarred not so much by non-traditional family structures per se, but by the conflict that can occur within them and the poverty that often results from single-family structures due to a lack of social supports. Families that can be flexible -- men doing more caring and women doing more paid work -- tend to do better. And we would all be better off if work took into account that most of us In my new favorite phrase from Amanda Ripley, I thought much of this book was "radically obvious:" kids are scarred not so much by non-traditional family structures per se, but by the conflict that can occur within them and the poverty that often results from single-family structures due to a lack of social supports. Families that can be flexible -- men doing more caring and women doing more paid work -- tend to do better. And we would all be better off if work took into account that most of us need to care for others. Well, duh.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    The thing I liked most about this book was the plentiful anecdotes from the over one hundred interviews conducted by the author. Although there is not as much in the way of research studies and statistics, the interviewees provide plenty of insight into the diversity of ideas, attitudes, and reactions to the changes that have happened in their generation.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joel Bayan

    Typical stories of everyday American lives. I didn't find anything spectacular, nor was I very surprised. Ambiguous and a little vague towards the winners of revolution. Leaves unanswered questions. As the title states the revolution may be unfinished, but the book is.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Adkins

    An excellent realistic account of what gender roles in our society look like through the eyes of many different types of people, and through the ages. Diverse perspectives, easy to read, and gives you a lot to think about.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Written by a prominent gender sociologist, I skimmed through this one fairly quickly when I realized the target of her study were young adults, many of whom were not yet in marriages, and had only expectations for their family/work lives.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I felt like the author had an agenda. It also became repetitive. My students felt the same. I like Stephanie Coontz's books and writing better.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I wrote a review of this book and published it on: http://wp.me/p382tY-up Check it out! I wrote a review of this book and published it on: http://wp.me/p382tY-up Check it out!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    From bibliography from Providence College Center for Teaching Excellence program on balancing work and family 2/2014

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chai

    Awesome book -- should be mandatory reading for anyone who cares about gender equity!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ismail N.

    Very uplifting, but incredibly white. The author regales us of changing families during the 1960s and 1970s, and offers us insight into how family values and forms are changing. The issue, I found, was that none of this seemed to apply to minority families. For example, delaying marriage for personal growth, a key point in the text, is not at all how Indian families would operate. Especially problematic were the emphasis of form over structure when many middle eastern and Asian cultures would so Very uplifting, but incredibly white. The author regales us of changing families during the 1960s and 1970s, and offers us insight into how family values and forms are changing. The issue, I found, was that none of this seemed to apply to minority families. For example, delaying marriage for personal growth, a key point in the text, is not at all how Indian families would operate. Especially problematic were the emphasis of form over structure when many middle eastern and Asian cultures would sorely disagree; collectivist vs individual cultures. It provided a helpful framework for how not to see immigrant families, but great record of American families.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    2.5 stars

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chunchun

    当代美国年轻人见证了母亲在外工作,面临工作与家庭双重commitment要求的时候,想要寻求弹性、平等、分享的关系,虽然多数人仍然期望高质量的感情,但是知道这可能可遇不可求。 最大的启发就是在研究中重视一代人的特殊性,强调孩子也是生活的积极观察者,成长过程中的重大事件可能会影响他们成年后的关系选择。

  17. 4 out of 5

    T.R. Flockhart

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elinor Rose

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christabel

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Ooten

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie Johnson

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jiajie Fang

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Philip Cohen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tristan Bridges

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alana

  28. 5 out of 5

    Emily Maag

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ingrid

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kate Applegate

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