Canadian Journal of Sociology Online May-June 2000

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Roderic Beaujot
Earning and Caring in Canadian Families.
Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2000, 416pp. $26.95 paper (1551111667)

Roderic Beaujot has produced numerous studies on the demography and sociology of family patterns in Canada. In this book, he draws on his accumulated knowledge and research expertise to provide an overview of selected issues in contemporary family relationships. Intended as an introduction to the field, it will be a valuable source of information for students in a variety of academic programs. The book surveys a broad literature with particular emphasis on recent Canadian research, including original analyses prepared especially for this publication. Along the way, Beaujot identifies and compares different social scientific and political approaches, discussing their strengths and weaknesses. A noteworthy feature of this book is that the author does not use only sources published in the English language. Beaujot also reports key findings from francophone studies conducted in Quebec, as well as in France.

As a demographer, Beaujot’s inspiration for this book is the observation that decisions affecting reproduction have economic causes and effects. Not surprisingly, therefore, a full chapter is devoted to the subject of fertility, which is followed by a chapter on children and youth. However, fertility has declined during this century, and it has become in some ways less important as a focus of family life. The chapters on fertility and children are therefore held back to the last third of the book, in order to make way for the main players in today’s family drama. The core of this book, according to its author, is to be found in chapters four and five on “paid work and family income” and “unpaid work and the division of productive activities.” These two chapters are preceded by what are, in effect, three introductory chapters: on family and work, gender, and family change. The book is rounded out by a concluding chapter on policy issues, in which Beaujot makes some modest policy recommendations on topics discussed in the earlier chapters.

A large number of research questions are discussed in this book, with the result that quick changes of topic sometimes produce a disjointed effect. Nevertheless, this book is overall well integrated at the conceptual level by a series of dualisms to which Beaujot frequently refers. The most important conceptual dualism is that between “earning” and “caring”, as indicated in the book’s title. Without making too much fuss about theoretical nuances, Beaujot readily transforms this pair of concepts into other well known dualisms, such as production and reproduction, public and private, work and family, and paid and unpaid work. He deploys these concepts within a flexible “political economy” approach, that allows room for discussions of cultural influences on choices about family relationships.

Somewhat less happily, Beaujot also makes considerable use of the conceptual dualism of instrumental and expressive functions. Beaujot’s line of argument here is grounded in a synthesis of Parsonian functionalism, Durkheimian theory of the division of labor, exchange theory and feminist analyses of gendered family roles. Beaujot argues that families are now based more on expressive rather than instrumental interdependence. Unlike Talcott Parsons, however, he does not see this as being due entirely to the displacement of families from key areas of societal functioning. Instead, Beaujot thinks it is due mainly to the changed division of labor within families. Increased employment of women means that wives are now engaged in many of the same instrumental activities as husbands. This has reduced the amount of familial role specialization, which in turn has undermined role complementarity that was once the principal basis for social integration in marriage. In a contemporary context of greater instrumental independence of spouses, it is expressive interdependence (i.e. caring) that is mainly responsible for the continuance of interpersonal relationships within families. This is an interesting line of argument, which Beaujot applies in a number of areas, including notably the explanation of trends in divorce. However, it does not necessarily follow that there has been a decrease in the instrumental functions of families, as Beaujot concludes. The conceptual difficulty here is that “caring” is both instrumental (i.e. care giving) and “expressive” (i.e. caring about someone). It might, therefore, be more useful to give up the residual terminology of functionalism and replace it with a discourse about different types of transactions within families.

Beaujot’s book is also likely to be judged in part on his views about gender relations and defining family, since both of these areas are highly controversial. On gender, Beaujot advocates a politics of androgyny understood as enlarging the common ground between women and men by de-emphasizing differences between them. This position is not displayed prominently throughout most of the book, but it is noticeable in the policy recommendations made in the conclusion. Beaujot is generally in favor of gender-symmetric social practices, in both the private and public spheres. He therefore argues that in order to encourage co-parenting in two-parent situations, policy should establish equal parental leave. For instance, mandated parental leave could be one year in total with the requirement that neither parent may take more than 26 weeks.

As the above example illustrates, in this book Beaujot is especially interested in the circumstances of families with children. Elderly families receive much less attention, and there is less about population ageing in this book than one might have expected. The impact of population ageing on the changing shape of kinship structures might have received more attention, for example. Indeed, the study of kinship (or extended family), is not a major feature of this book. The main reason for that seems to be the de facto definition of family upon which much of the book is based. Beaujot has broadened his explicit conceptualization of family in recent years, and in this book he defines families as units of people who share resources and who care for each other.

Nevertheless, the materials he has to work with are constrained by the nature of the data sets available for secondary analysis. These are often Statistics Canada surveys employing a definition of the “census family” as a married or cohabiting couple, with or without never-married children, or a lone parent with at least one never-married child, living in the same dwelling. The data in this book therefore illustrate the power of institutionalized definitions in the linkages between government data collection and quantitative academic research in Canada.

This limitation in Beaujot’s book is in fact due to its greatest strength. The single most valuable feature of the book is its careful attention to research based findings. Qualitative research does not receive much attention here, as the principal emphasis is on quantitative data drawn mainly from Statistics Canada surveys. This work is outstanding for its many carefully selected numerical observations, some of which are compiled in the book’s 62 Tables, 16 Figures, and 35 Boxes. Broadview Press is to be congratulated for allowing Roderic Beaujot to fully utilize his considerable skills in the presentation of quantitative data to illustrate social scientific analyses.

David Cheal
University of Winnipeg
June 2000
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