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Labor, Lifestyle, and the “Ladies Who Lunch”: Work and Worth Among Elite STAY-AT-HOME Mothers

Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities

ISBN: 978-1-80043-211-6, eISBN: 978-1-80043-210-9

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 15 October 2020


In the 1970s and 1980s, studies of the unpaid household and family labor of upper-class women linked this labor to class reproduction. In recent years, however, the topic of class has dropped out of analyses of unpaid labor, and such labor has been ignored in recent studies of elites. In this chapter, drawing primarily on 18 in-depth interviews with wealthy New York stay-at-home mothers, we look at what elite women’s unpaid labor consists of, highlighting previously untheorized consumption and lifestyle work; ask what it reproduces; and analyze how women themselves interpret and represent it. In the current historical moment, elite women face not only the cultural expectation that they will work for pay, but also the prominence of meritocracy as a mechanism of class legitimation in a diversified upper class. In this context, we argue, elite women’s unpaid labor serves to reproduce “meritocratic” dispositions of children rather than closed, homogenous elite communities, as identified in previous studies. Our respondents struggle to frame their activities as legitimate and productive work. In doing so, they not only resist longstanding stereotypes of “ladies who lunch” but also seek to justify and normalize their own class privileges, thus reproducing the same hegemonic discourses of work and worth that stigmatize their unpaid work.



Raxlen, J.d.S. and Sherman, R. (2020), "Labor, Lifestyle, and the “Ladies Who Lunch”: Work and Worth Among Elite STAY-AT-HOME Mothers", Gorman, E.H. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 195-220.



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