Handbook of the Sociology of Morality

Part of the series Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research pp 439-453


Moral Dimensions of the Work–Family Nexus

  • Mary Blair-LoyAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of California Email author 

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Transformations in family and work life in the USA have led to widespread feelings of conflict between these two domains. The work–family literature, hamstrung by assumptions of narrow rational action and structural determinism, has largely overlooked the moral dimension of this conflict. In contrast, I argue that work and family institutions are potent sites of moral prescriptions, meanings, and emotions. I encourage a model of human action that recognizes ideological constraint: institutions define morally potent ends that motivate action. This model also recognizes more creativity, by which people use moral understandings to justify work–family situations and to interpret them as meaningful and honorable. I show how adopting a moral lens would help the work-family literature solve some empirical puzzles and add to our understanding of gender. Finally, I raise questions about how the work-family nexus articulates with axes of social inequality and broader ideologies of individualism.