On-call job, on-call family: The necessity of family support among retail workers with unstable work schedules

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Dani Carrillo, Sociology Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley
Kristen Harknett, Associate Professor of Sociology and Research Associate of the Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania
Allison Logan, Sociology Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley
Sigrid Luhr, Sociology Graduate Student, University of California, Berkeley
Daniel Schneider, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley


Drawing on 25 in-depth interviews with parents employed in the service sector in the San Francisco Bay area, we describe an array of challenges: insufficient work hours, volatile incomes, unpredictable schedules, and the lack of flexibility for time off. Meeting the demands of work and parenting almost invariably involved reliance on informal child care support. Working parents with stable schedules were often able to manage parenting responsibilities using a “tag-team” parenting approach. Those with unstable schedules often engaged in a “child-care scramble” in which the care arrangements were pieced together on an ad hoc basis. Some parents with unstable work schedules were able to avoid this instability by relying heavily on one “family anchor,” usually a grandparent, who could consistently provide child care. In sum, on-call family support is required to meet the demands of unstable work schedules, and instability in work schedules often reproduces a similar instability at home.

November 1, 2016


Dani Carrillo Kristen Harknett Allison Logan Sigrid Luhr Daniel Schneider


Economic Wellbeing

Schedule Stability

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