This is “Field Research: A Qualitative Technique”, chapter 10 from the book Sociological Inquiry Principles: Qualitative and Quantitative Methods (v. 1.0).
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If we wanted to know who conducts more of the housework in households, how could we find the answer? One way might be to interview people and simply ask them. That is exactly what Arlie Hochschild did in her study of the second shift, her term for the work that goes on in the home after the day’s work for pay is completed. Hochschild (1989)Hochschild, A. (1989). The second shift: Working parents and the revolution at home (1st ed.). New York, NY: Viking. interviewed 50 heterosexual, married couples with children to learn about how they did, or did not, share the work of the second shift. Many of these couples reported to her that they shared the load of the second shift equally, sometimes dividing the house into areas that were “her responsibility” and those that were “his.” But Hochschild wasn’t satisfied with just people’s personal accounts of second-shift work. She chose to observe 12 of these couples in their homes as well, to see for herself just how the second shift was shared.
What Hochschild discovered was that even those couples who claimed to share the second shift did not have as equitable a division of duties as they’d professed. For example, one couple who told Hochschild during their interview that they shared the household work equally had explained that the wife was responsible for the upstairs portion of the house and the husband took responsibility for the downstairs portion. Upon conducting observations in this couple’s home, however, Hochschild discovered that the upstairs portion of the house contained all the bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room, while the downstairs included a storage space and the garage. This division of labor meant that the woman actually carried the weight of responsibility for the second shift. Without a field research component to her study, Hochschild might never have uncovered these and other truths about couples’ behaviors and sharing (or not sharing) of household duties.
Through field observations, Hochschild learned that couples don’t always share housework to the extent that they believe or claim to do so.