Parenting in an Insecure Age: Class, Gender and the Flexible Child


  • Allison J. Pugh University of Virginia



job insecurity, parenting, inequality, gender, youth


Existing work on job insecurity focuses upon its effects upon workers at work, but a growing field attends to its broader impacts beyond the workplace. Based on in-depth interviews with 80 parents with varying experience of job precariousness, this article seeks to investigate how class and gender shape the impact of job insecurity on childrearing, specifically how parents seek to prepare their children for the future they anticipate. Results document that most parents encourage their children to be "flexible," but the youth’s class and gender shape the meanings and intended uses of this flexibility: advantaged parents want their teenagers to be able to take advantage of opportunities in work and love while the less-advantaged hope their children’s flexibility will be able to protect them from certain disaster in these realms.


Allison, A. (1991). Japanese Mothers and Obentōs: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus. Anthropological Quarterly, 64(4), 195–208.

Barling, J., Dupre, K.E., Hepburn, C.G. (1998). Effects of Parents' Job Insecurity on Children's Work Beliefs and Attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(1), 112–118.

Barling, J., & Sorensen, D. (1997). Work and Family: In Search of a Relevant Research Agenda. In C.L. Cooper & S.E. Jackson (Eds.), Creating Tomorrow’s Organizations: A Handbook for Future Research in Organizational Behavior (pp. 157–169). Chichester: Wiley.

Barling, J., Zacharatos, A., & Hepburn, C.G. (1999). Parents’ Job Insecurity Affects Children’s Academic Performance through Cognitive Difficulties. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(3), 437–444.

Bianchi, S.M., Robinson, J.P., & Milkie, M.A. (2006). The Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Blair-Loy, M. (2003). Competing Devotions: Career and Family Among Women Executives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Burchell, B.J. (2005). The Welfare Costs of Job Insecurity: Psychological Wellbeing and Family Life. In Council of Europe, Reconciling Labour Flexibility with Social Cohesion. Facing the Challenge (Trends in Social Cohesion*, 15, pp. 71–108). Council of Europe, Strasbourg.

De Witte, H. (1999). Job Insecurity and Psychological Well-being: Review of the Literature and Exploration of Some Unresolved Issues. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8(2), 155–177.

Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2011). Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Emerson, R.M., Fretz, R.I., & Shaw, L.L. (2011). Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Flanagan, C.A., & Eccles, J.S. (1993). Changes in Parents' Work Status and Adolescents' Adjustment at School. Child Development, 64(1), 246–257.

Hays, S. (1996). The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hays, S. (2003). Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hochschild, A. (2003). The Commercialization of Intimate Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lim, V.K.G., & Leng Loo, G. (2003). Effects of Parental Job Insecurity and Parenting Behaviors On Youth’s Self-Efficacy And Work Attitudes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 63(1), 86–98.

Luker, K. (2008). Salsa-Dancing Into Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-Glut. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nelson, M. (2010). Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times. New York: New York University Press.

Pugh, A.J. (2015). The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pugh, A.J. (2013). What Good Are Interviews for Thinking About Culture? Demystifying Interpretive Analysis. American Journal of Cultural Sociology, 1(1), 42–68.

Sayer, L.C., Gauthier, A.H., & Furstenberg Jr., F.F. (2004). Educational Differences in Parents’ Time with Children: Cross‐National Variations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(5), 1152–1169. Retrieved from:

Schneider, D., & Reich, A. (2014). Marrying Ain’t Hard When You Got A Union Card? Labor Union Membership and First Marriage. Social Problems, 61(4), 625–643.

Stewart, W., & Barling, J. (1996). Fathers’ Work Experiences Affect Children’s Behaviors Via Job-Related Affect and Parenting Behaviors. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 17(3), 221–232. Retrieved from:

Sverke, M., Helgren, J., & Naswall, K. (2002). No Security: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Job Insecurity and Its Consequences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7(3), 242–264.

U.S. Census. (2004). Educational Attainment in the United States: 2003. Current Population Reports. Document P20-550. Retrieved from: Accessed November 3, 2010.




How to Cite

Pugh, A. J. (2018). Parenting in an Insecure Age: Class, Gender and the Flexible Child. Sociologica, 12(3), 11-24.