As a Professor of Sociology and Collegiate Professor of Arts and Science at New York University, my work focuses on the revolutions in gender, work, and family life that began in the last half of the 20th century and continue to unfold in the United States and globally. I am especially interested in understanding how people fashion commitments to the intertwined worlds of paid work and family life as they grow to adulthood and move through the life course.
My research approach combines the deep understandings afforded by in-depth, life history interviewing with careful, systematic sampling and analysis. It seeks to understand how large-scale social change takes place and how it prompts individuals and communities to develop new ways of living that then reshape the larger contours of social institutions and political debates. Using this approach, I have conducted a series of studies that examine how people experience, impart meaning, and seek to resolve the dilemmas arising from the conflicts between work and family structures. These projects have culminated in five books and numerous articles, with two more books in the pipeline.
My first book, Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood, provided an early framework for understanding how and why women from diverse social backgrounds travel unexpected paths as they encounter new opportunities and pressures at the workplace and new insecurities and options in personal relationships. By placing their experiences in the context of a rapidly shifting social and economic landscape, Hard Choices provides a roadmap for understanding the rise of new conflicts between creating a family and building a work career as well as the strategies women use in their efforts to resolve them.
A follow-up study to Hard Choices turned to focus on how the ongoing gender revolution has also transformed the lives of men. Summarized in No Man’s Land: Men’s Changing Commitments to Family and Work, this project analyzed the new contradictions and paradoxes facing contemporary men. While being a “good provider” remains the dominant measure of “successful” manhood, today’s men also face new pressures to more involved fathers and equal partners. Yet they also find it easier to avoid family responsibilities altogether. No Man’s Land explains why and how this new social context, with its mix of new freedoms and new pressures, has complicated men’s life trajectories. Many continue to enjoy the privileges and bear the burdens of breadwinning, but a growing number have become more egalitarian family caregivers while a contrasting group have sought to avoid family commitments altogether.
Next, I teamed with Jerry A. Jacobs, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist, to study changes in working time and their consequences for workers and families. Along with a number of articles, our book, The Time Divide: Work, Family, and Gender Inequality, draws on census, survey, and cross-national data to explain how and why working time has become a new form of social inequality that is dividing Americans in a variety of ways. The Time Divide shows how the American workforce has become increasingly bifurcated between time-demanding jobs that require some workers (especially professionals in male-dominated occupations) to put in far more hours than they would like, while others (especially low-wage workers in insecure jobs) are unable to find as much work as they need and would like. These new job and gender hierarchies are taking a toll on all families and especially the growing number who depend on either two earners or one parent.
The roadblocks that continue the prevent full gender equality motivated my most recent book, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family. As a first-hand account of the “children of the gender revolution,” it focuses on the experiences of the generation who grew up in changing families and are now grappling with the obstacles that continue the prevent work-family integration and full gender equality. The Unfinished Revolution shows how irreversible but incomplete change has created a clash between new egalitarian ideals and unyielding social arrangements. Most young adults hope to fashion flexible, egalitarian life paths, but they are struggling to reconcile these ideals with intransigent institutions that put them out of reach. Without the workplace and childcare supports needed to share work and caregiving in a flexible, egalitarian way, most are falling back on less desirable options. While most women are determined to seek “self-reliance” through paid work, men are inclined to seek a “neo-traditional” arrangement that allows them to put work first and rely on a partner to pick up the domestic slack. Since this emerging gender divide reflects a lack more egalitarian options, the challenge is to finish the gender revolution by creating more flexible, egalitarian workplaces and child-supportive communities.
At the moment, I am at work on two projects. The first, a book on the theory and practice of qualitative interviewing, offers guidelines for crafting theoretically informed interview-based research as well as practical strategies for conducting and analyzing interviews. Co-authored with Sarah A. Damaske, a Penn State sociologist who received her Ph.D. at NYU, it outlines the unique contributions that interviews can offer as well as the analytic commonalities it shares with other research strategies. The book, tentatively titled The Art and Science of Interviewing, is under contract with Oxford Press.
A second ongoing project continues to explore the causes, contours, and consequences of the gender revolution by focusing on how the precarious conditions of the “new economy” are reshaping patterns of work and caregiving. Extensive interviews with a broad cross-section of adults residing in the Silicon Valley and New York areas reveals how rising uncertainty in both jobs and relationships has prompted new strategies for coping with the intensifying conflicts between paid work and intimate life. Some of these strategies – such as those adopted by gender-traditional couples – represent the much-heralded “stall” in the gender revolution, but others – such as those who opt to remain single and those who strive for gender-reversed or egalitarian work-care arrangements – represent newer patterns that are growing in size and appeal. A series of published articles present preliminary findings, and a book is now in progress.
If you’re interested in any of these projects, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter at @KathleenGerson.
Selected Recent Articles:
“There’s No Such Thing as Having It All: Gender, Work, & Care in an Age of Insecurity.” In Gender in the 21st Century: The Stalled Revolution and the Road to Equality, edited by Shannon N. Davis, Sarah Winslow, and David J. Maume. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (2017).
“ Unpacking Americans’ Views on the Employment of Mothers and Fathers: Lessons from a National Vignette Survey” (with Jerry A. Jacobs). Gender and Society 30 (June 2016): 413-441.
“ Different Ways of Not Having It All: Work, Care, and Shifting Gender Arrangements in the New Economy.” In Beyond the Cubicle: Job Insecurity, Intimacy, and the Flexible Self, edited by Allison Pugh. New York: Oxford (2017).
“ The Logics of Work, Care, and Gender Change in the New Economy: A View from the U.S.” Pp. 19-35 in “Work-Family Dynamics and the Competing Logics of Regulation, Economy, and Morals, edited by Berit Brandth, Sigtona Halrynjo, and Elin Kvande. London and New York: Routledge..
“‘ Expansionist Theory’ Expanded: Integrating Sociological and Psychological Perspectives on Gender, Work, and Family Change.” Gender and Couple Relationships, edited by Susan M. McHale, Valarie King, Jennifer Van Hook, and Alan booth. New York: Springer (2015).
“ Falling Back on Plan B: The Children of the Gender Revolution Face Uncharted Territory.” Pp. 378-392 in Families as They Really Are, edited by Barbara J. Risman. New York: W.W. Norton. (Second edition, 2015).
“ Changing Family Patterns and the Future of Family Life.” Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, edited by Robert A. Scott and Stephen M. Kosslyn. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons (2015).
“ Time-Greedy Workplaces and Marriageable Men: The Paradox in Men's Fathering Beliefs and Strategies” (with Pamela Kaufman). In "Men, Wage Work and Care," edited by Paula McDonald. London: Routledge (2012).
“ After the Fall of Gender Barriers.” European Journal of Sociology 51 (3) (2011).
“ Changing Lives, Resistant Institutions: A New Generation Negotiates Gender, Work, and Family Change.” Sociological Forum 24 (4) (December, 2009).
“Overworked Individuals or Overworked Families? Explaining Trends in Work, Leisure, and Family Time” (with Jerry A. Jacobs) Work and Occupations 28 (1) (2001): 40-63.