Holding It Together: How Women Became America's Safety Net (Hardcover)

Holding It Together: How Women Became America's Safety Net By Jessica Calarco Cover Image
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Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women. Holding It Together chronicles the causes and dire consequences.

America runs on women—women who are tasked with holding society together at the seams and fixing it when things fall apart. In this tour de force, acclaimed Sociologist Jessica Calarco lays bare the devastating consequences of our status quo.  

Holding It Together draws on five years of research in which Calarco surveyed over 4000 parents and conducted more than 400 hours of interviews with women who bear the brunt of our broken system. A widowed single mother struggles to patch together meager public benefits while working three jobs; an aunt is pushed into caring for her niece and nephew at age fifteen once their family is shattered by the opioid epidemic; a daughter becomes the backstop caregiver for her mother, her husband, and her child because of the perceived flexibility of her job; a well-to-do couple grapples with the moral dilemma of leaning on overworked, underpaid childcare providers to achieve their egalitarian ideals. Stories of grief and guilt abound. Yet, they are more than individual tragedies.  

Tracing present-day policies back to their roots, Calarco reveals a systematic agreement to dismantle our country’s social safety net and persuade citizens to accept precarity while women bear the brunt. She leads us to see women's labor as the reason we've gone so long without the support systems that our peer nations take for granted, and how women’s work maintains the illusion that we don't need a net.  

Weaving eye-opening original research with revelatory sociological narrative, Holding It Together is a bold call to demand the institutional change that each of us deserves, and a warning about the perils of living without it.

About the Author

Jessica Calarco is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, an expert on families, schools, and inequalities, and a mom of two. She is the author of Negotiating Opportunities and A Field Guide to Grad School, the coauthor of Qualitative Literacy, and a contributor to The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post.

Praise For…

Holding It Together is both an authoritative indictment of current and past US social policy and an empathetic, unsettling portrait of American motherhood. Jessica Calarco has masterfully leveraged the insights of a wide range of data to reveal the institutional engines of our deeply unequal status quo."
— Jennifer Breheny Wallace, New York Times bestselling author of Never Enough
“Care is the cure for much of what ails us. But it is also often hard, tiring, uncompensated work that is pushed overwhelmingly onto women. Jess Calarco recounts moving, often wrenching, care stories of mothers, daughters, and wives across America, illustrating the deep injustice and short-sightedness of our current care system. Bring on the care union!”
— Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America and author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family

Holding It Together is a punch in the gut and a call to action. It's beautifully and persuasively written, exhaustingly researched but never overwhelming. No one's writing makes me angrier about the way we've replaced our social safety net with the labor of women — but no one is more effective in convincing me there's a different way forward.”
— Anne Helen Petersen, author of Out of Office and the Culture Study newsletter

[Holding It Together] is the truth-telling we’ve been waiting for, helping us understand the landscape of policy choices and cultural narratives that have kept us from building the safety net we need and deserve in the United States. Calarco equips us with clear, sharp analysis and the appropriate level of outrage for action.”
— Ai-jen Poo, author and president of the National Domestic Workers Alliance
“Powerful and urgent. Jessica Calarco documents the sweeping costs of the political decision to make women responsible for the domestic work that other affluent nations cover with the welfare state - costs that not only women, but also every American family and community pay- and issues an unignorable call for change.”
Eric Klinenberg, author of 2020: One City, Seven People, and the Year Everything Changed

Holding It Together embodies the sociological imagination. It is urgent, important, smart, and it changes the way you understand what you thought you knew. Jessica Calarco weaves powerful narrative with compelling empirical data to give us a metaphor for understanding our economic lives: women as social safety net. It is a fundamentally sound, well-argued thesis that sharpens a reader's analytical lens. Once you see the economy the way Calarco describes it, you cannot unsee it. You will also feel compelled to do something about it. “
— Tressie McMillan Cottom, Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and columnist for The New York Times
Product Details
ISBN: 9780593538128
ISBN-10: 0593538129
Publisher: Portfolio
Publication Date: June 4th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English