Happily Never After? The Challenges of “Marrying Up”

Image via alicexc.deviantart.com
Image via alicexc.deviantart.com

 

Princess Jasmine fell for Aladdin, even after his Prince Ali façade failed. Lady Sybil Crawley married the family chauffeur Tom Branson, despite his socialist views and Irish, working-class origins. Richard Gere scaled a fire escape to retrieve his “Pretty Woman.” Typically, sociologists say, marrying across class differences happens much less frequently in real life than in popular culture. Jessi Streib, however, wrote a whole book about these uncommon couples. She tells New York Magazine’s Science of Us the findings in her The Power of the Past: Understanding Cross-Class Marriages.

Streib’s interviews revealed benefits and challenges to class difference in marriage. Partners may recognize in each other qualities they felt lacking in their own class background. Thus, working-class individuals may value the confidence and sense of stability of middle-class individuals, while middle-class partners may gravitate toward the intimacy and expressiveness they perceive in working-class families. Middle-class individuals often communicate in a “managerial” style, which, according to Streib, means “They manage their emotions, so before you want to express something, you think about it first, you figure out what you really feel, you think about how to express it in a way that will make the other person most comfortable, and then you kind of quietly and very calmly state how you feel and make sure there’s a good rationale behind it.” Working-class individuals, on the other hand, have a more laissez-faire way of expressing emotions. They are more likely to state their honest feelings directly, even if they’re not particularly nice or polite.

While differences in communication styles provide opportunities for understanding, they also pose challenges. Trying to change the other person, Streib says, is not going to make a partnership work.

The couples who it went really well for were the ones who appreciated each other’s differences. So they would say things like, “You know, it’s not how I do it, but I can understand why that other way makes total sense,” or could actually use their partner’s differences to help them solve a problem at times. So keeping in perspective that difference isn’t necessarily bad, and that they love their partner despite or because of all these differences, could help a lot.

As in any relationship, cooperation and communication are keys to success. Cross-class marriages may not be incredibly common, but at least one sociologist is convinced Tom and Sybil could have made a life of it—save a few plot twists.

Service with a Smile—Or Else.

At TGI Friday's, "flair"=fun. Photo by Derek Morrison via flickr.com.
At TGI Friday’s, “flair”=fun. Photo by Derek Morrison via flickr.com.

It’s a common problem in post-recession America: you hate your job, but you also can’t just up and get a new one. We usually have social options for dealing with this, ranging from commiserating with co-workers in the breakroom to organizing for better working conditions. But if you work in the service industry, where the customer isn’t too keen on knowing you hate your job, bosses can try to bust up the social bandwagon.

A piece for MSNBC’s The Ed Show makes great use of Arlie Hochschild’s concept of “emotional labor.” The piece gives a handful of examples in which employees, from Starbucks baristas to Wal-Mart greeters, are increasingly burdened with managers’ attempts to regulate how much they demonstrate enjoying their work. The author even quotes one account of employees who could be fired for not touching each other frequently enough!

This raises some fascinating questions for work in the 21st century. We know all social interactions are governed by rules and institutions, but when work is a scarce necessity, do we have the luxury of “doing what we love,” or must we “fake it ‘til we make it”… to a better job?

Belatedly, the May 2012 Media Award for Measured Social Science

Stars by takingthemoney via flickr.com
Just gotta find the gold one… Photo by takingthemoney via flickr.com

TSP’s Media Awards may have taken the summer off, but journalists and social scientists assuredly did not! We are excited to announce the winner of the May 2012 TSP Media Award for Measured Social Science:

Paying for the Labors of Love,” Judith ShulevitzThe New York Times Sunday Book Review

In her engaging and thorough review of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Outsourced Self (the author was the subject of her own Citing in May 2012 with a New York Times Op-Ed), Shulevitz wrote:

I guess you’d call it popular sociology, but I think of it more as an act of mourning. …Hochschild’s look at how we meet some of our most personal needs with the aid of paid strangers doesn’t try to be exhaustive; goes light on figures and statistics; and, when itemizing the most outrageous advances in the market for love and care, never lapses into that magazine journalist’s tone of wry amusement. …Hochschild isn’t really interested in the extremes of the outsourced life. She wants to know what it feels like to be caught in the middle of it. An ethnographic sociologist rather than a quantifier of social trends, Hochschild elicits thoughtful reflections from ordinary people. Then she uses those reflections to chart the confusing intersections between commerce and private life…

By going on to engage Hochschild’s book and other, relevant sources (including novels that illustrate “the gulf between employers, who imagine that relations between themselves and their emotional delegates are mutually beneficial, and the employed, who grasp the cash they take is meant to make them invisible”), Shulevitz shows the deep literary knowledge and willingness to delve into even daring topics that earned her editorial roles at New York MagazineSlate, and Lingua Franca, as well as bylines in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and more.

As we’ve said before, the choice of each month’s TSP Media Award is neither scientific nor exhaustive, but we do work hard to winnow our favorite nominees. In this case, we’ve actually chosen a piece that has not yet been featured on our site, though it is well-deserving of many a read. And, while we don’t have the deep pocketbooks to offer enormous trophies or cash prizes, we hope our informal award offers cheer and encouragement for journalists and social scientists to keep up the important (if not always rewarding) work of bringing academic knowledge to the broader public.