Research

My research examines how couples and colleagues value and reward each other's paid and unpaid work, and how this produces gender inequalities in the institutions of family and work. A key line of my research focuses on how periods of not working are infused with ideas of morality around who should do paid work and who is exempt from it. Central to this is my book manuscript, Crunch Time: How Couples Confront Unemployment, under contract with the University of California Press, which examines involuntary unemployment. By using in-depth and innovative data I develop sociological understandings of how interactions in the intimate realm of the home encourage the reproduction of gender norms rather than dismantling them. 

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In my current position as an Assistant Professor of Sociology, I am beginning a multi-sited, ethnographic project examining how elite workers in global industries such as tech and finance experience work-life conflict in different global regions. Along with colleagues at Stanford university, I am also working on a project examining how passion shapes rewards in the workplace.

Crunch Time: How Married Couples Confront Unemployment

(forthcoming 2020) with the University of California Press

My book examines involuntary unemployment amongst Americans in the professional-managerial classes. I draw on in-depth data  including family observations,  interviews with unemployed men, unemployed women, their spouses, and follow-up interviews with participants. Couples, I show, work hard, often unknowingly, to maintain gender inequalities, and frequently in ways which are contrary to the material realities of their lives. I find that couples frame men’s unemployment as a moral and practical problem; but they do not frame women’s unemployment as such. Consequently, in men’s families, couples emphasize men’s job searching in three ways: spatially, temporally, and emotionally.

  • Spatially, they demarcate certain household spaces as men’s, to be used to facilitate their job searching activities.

  • Temporally, they safeguard men’s time from housework.

  • Emotionally, wives in these couples do an immense amount of “emotion work” to shield husbands from the rejections of the labor market.

In women’s families, even couples with progressive gender ideologies, and family structures where wives are the higher-earning spouses, downplay the significance of women’s contribution to the household income – including when it forms the basis for the family’s lifestyle – and consequently do not prioritize women’s job searching, spatially, temporally or emotionally.

 

Unemployment can be seen as a site of innovation - where couples can create new practices to align with their realities. Instead, I find that couples fall back on highly gendered tropes. They reproduce shared understandings of paid and unpaid work which are far more traditional than the conditions of their lives. 

Aliya Hamid Rao