Morality and Work–Family Conflict in the Lives of Poor and Low-Income Women

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit


Publication Date



Contemporary understandings of work and family are largely based on middle-class women's experience, whereas poverty and welfare researchers focus on the economic struggles of single female-headed families. This qualitative study examines the cultural and moral forces underlying the tension between paid work and family responsibilities through the experience of poor and low-income women. Interview data reveal that as expected, the conditions of poverty and welfare shape work and family decisions. Yet, choices about work and family entail moral and emotional commitments defined through powerful gendered cultural schemas. Providing financially for children reflects a strong work ethic and moral worth corresponding to a masculine model of individual responsibility privileging self-sufficiency and independence. This is challenged by a shared moral imperative that mother's primary responsibility is the care of children. This examination is important for researchers in understanding the moral and emotional salience of gender in shaping the work and family lives of poor and low-income women.


This article was originally published in The Sociological Quarterly. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

Due to copyright restrictions, this article is not available for free download from ScholarWorks @ CWU.


The Sociological Quarterly


© 2009 Midwest Sociological Sociey