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Shift Work, Childcare and Domestic Work: divisions of labour in Canadian paper mill communities

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The growing prevalence of shift work and non-standard working hours is challenging many taken-for-granted notions about family and household life. This article examines how rotating shift schedules shape household strategies with regard to childcare and unpaid domestic work. In 1993-94 in-depth interviews were conducted with 90 predominantly male newsprint mill-workers and their spouses living in three communities located in different regions of Canada. The analysis in this article is based on these interviews as well as data collected in a questionnaire survey administered to a much larger sample. The article focuses on the effects of rotating shifts and the extent to which household strategies differ between households with one or two wage-earners. The findings reveal that the onus for adjusting to shifts fell mainly on the spouses of mill-workers, who felt constrained in their own choices regarding employment and childcare by the demanding regimen of their partner's shift schedules. In the vast majority of households a traditional division of labour predominated with regard to both childcare and domestic work. When women quit paid employment to accommodate the schedules of shift-workers and ensure time for the family to be together, traditional values reassert themselves. Surprisingly, a high level of satisfaction with current shift schedules was found, despite the significant adjustments to family life they had necessitated. By comparing families employed in the same industry but living in three very different communities, the analysis underscores the importance of local circumstances in mediating the strategies households deploy in coping with shift work, especially with regard to childcare.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2000-03-01

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