Research Paper Assignment of Work-Family and the Life Course

Activity Description:

Author: Catherine White Berheide, Skidmore College


This paper explores how Americans combine their work and family lives today. A life course perspective reminds us that these arrangements change over time. A historical perspective also reveals that these arrangements change over time. This paper explores the variety of “livable arrangements” at which parents arrive to address these competing needs at different stages of their lives and in different historical periods.


For this paper, each student will interview two couples who are actively parenting children. Students must choose couples whose children are at different stages of their lives. The stages are:

  • A couple who has at least one child under six.  
  • A couple whose youngest child is between 6 and 12.
  • A couple whose youngest child is between 13 and 18.
  • A couple whose youngest child is over 18, but still economically dependent.
  • Using the interview protocol developed by the class, interview the two couples.


Begin the paper by drawing on the course readings to frame the problem of the contemporary conflict between work and family at the theoretical level. Be sure to define key concepts. Next discuss what the data from the interviews as well as the data in the course readings tell us about contemporary work and family arrangements. Indicate whether the interview data follow the patterns described in the readings. If they do not, what makes these families different from the “typical” American families? Are these arrangements egalitarian or specialized? Are they equal or fair? What factors influence the choices the couples make? Conclude by discussing whether the arrangements are the result of individual preferences, cultural expectations, or structural changes.

The paper should be five pages long (typed and double-spaced with normal margins and type font). Attach a copy of your notes from your interviews to your paper. Include a reference page listing any of the course readings referred to in the paper. Footnote (using the internal citation format) any direct quotations or paraphrasing. Be sure you cite the exact reading to which you are referring and not the editors of the book from which the reading comes.

Activity Source:

Adapted by Jane Case from Berheide, C.W. (2006). “Work, Family, and Organizations” Syllabus.