Working It Out


What's Work Good for?

"Warning: Dates in calendar are closer than they appear."

- Somewhere on the Web

Why do we work?

bulletStatus and/or pay
bulletSocial membership/acceptance
bulletBuild experience

The number of hours of weekly work per person (at least in the United States) has been roughly constant since World War II.  Beneath this aggregate stability there have been important shifts in the distribution of paid work, from men to women and from older to younger people.  Men as a whole spent fewer hours in paid work in the 1990s than in the 1950s.  In particular, men over 55 have far more leisure time today, mainly because of early retirement, some of it involuntary.

Clearly women work more hours outside the home than they did 30 years ago.  Time studies suggest that non-work time burdens have been reduced, including housework and (since we have fewer children today) child care.  In fact, John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey report a 6.2-hour-per-week gain in free time between 1965 and 1995 for the average American - 4.5 hours for women and 7.9 hours for men - due mostly to less housework and earlier retirement.

The Robinson-Godbey claim that Americans have more leisure time now than several decades ago is contested by other observers, but there is surely no evidence for less.  That is, for some groups.  Less educated people have gained free time, whereas their counterparts with tertiary education for the most part have lost it.  The hours-per-week edge of university-educated over high-school dropouts lengthened from six hours in 1969 to 13 hours in 1998.  In other words, the "working class" has less work and the "leisure class" has less leisure.

Dual-career families are more common and are spending more time at work than they used to: married couples average 14 more hours at work each week in 1998 than in 1969.  For well-educated middle-class parents, the time bind is real.  When younger, more educated women had free time, they invested it in community engagement.  When mostly older, less well-educated men have free time, they tend to consume it privately.

The DDB Needham Life Style data indicate that women who are employed full time outside the home primarily for personal satisfaction has remained relatively constant at 11% over the past two decades.  Of all women who work full-time, the fraction who say that they are doing so primarily out of financial necessity has risen from 2/3 to more than 3/4.  Virtually all increase in full time employment of American women over the last 20 years is attributable to financial pressure, not personal fulfillment.

The changing character of work and the closely-related movement of women into the paid workforce were among the most far-reaching upheavals in society during the 20th century.  This transformation of the workplace was compatible with the metamorphosis a century earlier from a place of farms to one of factories and offices.  Yet 21st century institutions, both public and private, and norms and practices within the workplace have only begun to adapt to this change.  This workplace evolution is implicated in the nearly simultaneous decline of social connectedness and civic involvement.

Employers, labour leaders, public officials, and employees themselves need to find ways to ensure that by 2010 the workplace will be substantially more family-friendly and community-congenial, so that workers will be able toreplenish stocks of social capital both within and without the workplace.  Fortunately, there is some evidence that community- and family-oriented workplace practices benefit the employer as well.  At least in periods of full employment, such practices become a key ingredient in recruiting and retaining a high-quality, loyal workforce.  Workplace practices that inhibit community involvement and family connectedness produce a classic case of what economists term "negative externalities," imposing an unrequited cost on society.

Source: mostly from Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University; he may be contacted through his website at

Dispensing Morality

by Ellen Goodman

Boston - To begin with, I don't believe that anyone should be compelled to do work he or she regards as unethical.  History is full of heroes who rebelliously followed their consciences.  It's also full of people who shamefully followed orders.

For that matter, I believe that companies and institutions should have a code of ethics.  What is the alternative to corporate responsibility and public morality?  Enron?

So I approach the subject of conscience clauses rather gingerly.

The very first such laws offered an exemption for doctors in 47 states who don't want to perform abortions on moral grounds.  That seems to me a matter of common decency.  Doctors are not automatons who leave their beliefs at the operating room door.  It also seems like common sense.  Who would want her abortion performed by an opponent?

Gradually however, we have had the incredibly expanding conscience clause.  In 10 states health care professionals can conscientiously refuse to provide contraceptives.  In 12 states they can refuse to perform sterilisations.  Indeed, last year the government decided that entire hospitals and HMOs had the right to deny these services without losing federal funding.  Never mind that it is not clear who owns the conscience of a hospital: A church hierarchy?  A board of directors?  The doctors?  The community?  Or the taxpayers who foot the hospital bills?

Now we have gone even further.  Conscience clauses are being proposed to protect professionals who refuse to follow end-of-life directives and refuse to use treatments from stem cell research.  Most notably, we have bills in a dozen states to include pharmacists who won't fill a prescription.  It's the pharmacists who are getting the most attention right now.  In just 6 months, there were about 180 reports of pharmacists who said no.  One refused to fill a college student's birth-control prescription.  Another refused medication to a woman who had suffered a miscarriage.  This has led to a counter bill in California that would make pharmacists tell employers of their objections in advance and be prepared to make referrals.  It's led to a rule by the Illinois governor that every pharmacy - though not every pharmacist - must fill prescriptions, "No delays.  No hassles.  No lectures."  Karen Brauer, who heads a group called Pharmacists for Life International, which claims 1,600 members, compares them to "conscientious objectors."  But it isn't that simple.

The pharmacist who refuses emergency contraception is not just following his moral code, he's trumping the moral beliefs of the doctor and the patient.  "If you open the door to this, I don't see any place to draw a line," says Anita Allen, law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The New Ethics.  If the pharmacist is officially sanctioned as the moral arbiter of the drugstore, does he then ask the customer whether the pills are for cramps or contraception?  If he's parsing his conscience with each prescription, can he ask if the morning-after pill is for carelessness or rape?  For that matter, can his conscience be the guide to second-guessing Ritalin as well as Viagra?  How much further do we want to expand the reach of the individual conscience?  Does the person at the checkout counter have an equal right to refuse to sell condoms?  Does the bus driver have a right to refuse to let off customers in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic?

Yes, we want people to have a strong moral compass.  But they have to coexist with others whose compasses point in another direction.  In the debate over conscience clauses, Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice says, properly, "There is very little recognition that the conscience of the woman is as important, let alone more important, than the conscience of the provider."

Pharmacists don't have the same claim to refuse filling a prescription as a doctor has to refuse performing an abortion.  But there are other ways to exercise a private conscience clause.  Indeed, in a conflict between your job and your ethics, you can quit.  It happens every day.  When Thoreau refused to pay taxes as a war protest, remember, he went to jail.  What the pharmacists and others are asking for is conscience without consequence.  The plea to protect their conscience is a thinly veiled ploy for conquest.  This is not easy stuff.  But in the culture wars we have become awfully enamored of moral stances.  Have we forgotten that what holds us together is the other lowly virtue, minding your own business?

To each his own conscience.  But the drugstore is not an altar.  The last time I looked, the pharmacist's license did not include the right to dispense morality.

Source: Saturday 9 April 2005 Page A23 © The Washington Post Company

The Cost of Change

Do we need relatively more money or less money at the beginning of the 21st century than we needed at the beginning of the 20th century?

Source: The Economist December 2000

For articles related to working including why, which career, bosses, time constraints, focus, trends, gender issues, pay differentials, getting laid off, getting re-hired, dependents, part-time work and balancing work and values click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this section on Working.

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