Kathleen Gerson

Kathleen Gerson

Recent Awards:

Guggenheim Fellowship, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
Distinguished Career Contribution, ASA Family Section

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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.

As a recognized authority on work-family conflict and gender change, I am currently researching how the precarious conditions of the “new economy” are reshaping patterns of work and care giving. 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, while others – such as those emerging among singles and in gender-reversed or egalitarian relationships – signal the emergence of new patterns that are growing in size and appeal. A book is in progress, with preliminary findings reported in recently published articles.

My most recent book, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, addresses the roadblocks that continue the prevent full gender equality. 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.

My earlier books addressed issues central to understanding the gender revolution that began in the late 20th century and continues to unfold. 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 road map 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.

In a follow-up study to Hard Choices, I turned to the question of 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.

I have also teamed with Sarah A. Damaske, a Penn State sociologist, to write a book on the theory and practice of qualitative interviewing. Soon to be published by Oxford Press, our book offers guidelines for crafting theoretically informed interview-based research as well as practical strategies for conducting and analyzing interviews. Tentatively titled The Art and Science of Interviewing, it outlines the unique contributions that interviews offer to understanding the social world while also stressing the analytic commonalities it shares with other research strategies..

Alongside my long association with New York University, I have held visiting positions at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City, and the Center for the Study of Status Passages and Risks in the Life Course at the University of Bremen, Germany. My professional posts include serving as Vice President of the American Sociological Association, President of the Eastern Sociological Society, Co-President of the Sociologists for Women in Society, Chair of the NYU Sociology Department, Chair of the Family Section of the American Sociological Association, and as an editorial board member of the American Sociological Review, Work and Occupations, and the ASA’s Rose Monograph Series.

As an engaged citizen and committed policy analyst, I have been and continue to be actively involved in a range of national and international efforts to promote work-family integration and gender inclusion, including projects sponsored by the Ford Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, the Council on Contemporary Families, and the Work and Family Researchers Network, where I served as a member of the founding board.

I have also been fortunate to receive a number of fellowships and honors. These include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Jessie Bernard Award from the American Sociological Association for distinguished contributions to the study of gender, the Distinguished Career Award from the Family Section of the American Sociological Association, the Distinguished Merit Award from the Eastern Sociological Society, the William J. Goode Distinguished Book Award for The Unfinished Revolution, the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research, the Distinguished Feminist Lectureship from the Sociologists for Women in Society, and the Charles Phelps Taft and Kingsley Birge Endowed Lectureships.