Cover: Competing Devotions: Career and Family among Women Executives, from Harvard University PressCover: Competing Devotions in PAPERBACK

Competing Devotions

Career and Family among Women Executives

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$36.00 • £31.95 • €32.95

ISBN 9780674018167

Publication Date: 11/17/2005


288 pages

5-1/8 x 7-15/16 inches

4 tables


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This book will be of significant interest to students of work and organizations, those who are concerned with work–family conflict and accommodation, and those students of cultural sociology who wish to read a testimonial on how important cultural schemas are in constructing social lives. Here the schemas are work and family. But the findings may potentially generalize to other cultural schemas that can have a powerful grip on us as we negotiate our lives, regardless of whether we innovate at the boundaries of competing devotions or not.—Toby L. Parcel, Administrative Science Quarterly

The work-devotion and family-devotion schemas are not simply used as rationalizations; they are gendered frameworks that others use to interpret behavior. As cultural models, they serve to define ‘economic rationality’… Blair-Loy skillfully illustrates the patterns that emerge when we view individual lives in the context of their historical moment and social location. Competing Devotions is an insightful examination of work and family among elite executive women.—Anita Ilta Garey, American Journal of Sociology

This work is a welcome addition to the growing body of sociological studies of working women. A significant contribution of this book is that it lends a qualitative consideration to a topic too often evaluated by quantitative measures.—Susan R. Cody, NWSA Journal

Blair-Loy’s comparison of the two groups [of work-committed and family-committed] women is an imaginative and beautifully constructed study that bristles with insight… Rather than serving up the standard menu of neat public policy fixes to achieve work–family ‘balance,’ Competing Devotions offers a compelling explanation as to why even such long overdue reforms as paid family leave legislation and the proliferation of ‘family friendly’ corporate benefits are not likely to do much to resolve the work–family conundrum without a far more fundamental set of social changes. Both corporate elite careers and motherhood, Blair-Loy argues, have deep moral and cultural underpinnings. Both are governed by what she calls ‘schemas of devotion’ that demand total commitment to one’s ‘calling,’ whether it be to the corporation or the child(ren)… These morally laden schemas are so powerful that they often trump economic rationality.—Ruth Milkman, Women’s Review of Books

Mary Blair-Loy’s book transcends old debates about work and family by examining the women who have beaten the odds and risen to the top. Her detailed examination of careers and strategies perfectly complements her subtle analysis of the schemas and visions these women have for their lives. Blair-Loy has given us not only a splendid view into a little known world, but also a new way of understanding the dynamic interplay of work and family. Looking beyond the static conflict we have studied so much, she shows how creative women put traditional schemas of family and work into a mutual transformation to build for themselves a new and more livable world.—Andrew Abbott, author of Time Matters

This is a fascinating book with an important message. Blair-Loy’s findings are surprising. She challenges conventional viewpoints. She is on to something really new when she writes about not only the interplay between cultural norms and individual actions (and institutional structures) but on the cultural schemas that evoke deep emotional resonances. An outstanding book.—Cynthia Fuchs-Epstein, author of Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender and the Social Order

Many professional women intuit that male colleagues whose spouse handle for them the details of everyday life are favored in the workplace. Blair-Loy confirms this intuition and shows us how it happens. She captures how the cultural schemas of ‘family devotion’ and ‘work devotion’ contribute to the reproduction of gender inequality, and how meeting the demands of a husband’s job and other people’s needs push professional women to progressively abandon their work to take care of others. Her analysis also gives us hope by comparing the fate of pre and post–baby boomers. This is both an important scholarly contribution and a book that will help readers think differently about their lives. It should be required reading for professional women who aspire to maintain multidimensional lives.—Michèle Lamont, author of The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration

Awards & Accolades

  • 2005 William J. Goode Book Award, Sociology of Family Section of the American Sociological Association

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