Christensen, Kathleen E(lizabeth) 1951-
CHRISTENSEN, Kathleen E(lizabeth) 1951-
PERSONAL: Born May 25, 1951, in Madison, WI; daughter of Norbert Martin and Janet Cull Christensen; married John Joseph Murray III, May 25, 1990; children: Clare, Grace. Education: University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, B.S. (summa cum laude); Pennsylvania State University, M.S., 1979, Ph.D., 1981.
CAREER: Urban Institute, Washington, DC, policy analyst, 1973-75; City University of New York, New York, NY, from assistant professor to professor of psychology, 1981-91, professor, 1991-99; Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, New York, director of family-work research program, 1995—. Consultant to businesses, federal agencies, and Congressional committees; member of advisory board, Boston Center for Work and Family, 1990-94.
MEMBER: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Sociological Association, American Anthropological Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Humanities fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1977-79; Danforth fellowship, Danforth Foundation, 1979-81; Mellon fellowship, Aspen Institute, 1982; Rockefeller Foundation fellowship.
(Editor) The New Era of Home-based Work: Directions and Policies, Westview Press (Boulder, CO), 1988.
Women and Home-based Work: The Unspoken Contract, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor, with Irwin Altman) Environment and Behavior Studies: Emergence of Intellectual Traditions, Plenum Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Turbulence in the American Workplace, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Kathleen Barker) Contingent Work: American Employment Relations in Transition, ILR Press (Ithaca, NY), 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Kathleen E. Christensen has been concerned with America's rapidly changing workplace, including such issues as women working at home, alternative work schedules, and the increasing practice of outsourcing work. One of her early books, Women and Home-based Work: The Unspoken Contract, emerged from a survey Christensen conducted of 14,000 women that appeared in Family Circle magazine. In this study, Christensen focuses mostly on married women who choose home-based work as a way to combine work and family life. Although many women work from their homes in an attempt to "have it all," Christensen asserts that the "unspoken contracts" of home life that still give women primary responsibility for child-rearing and housework keep them from feeling any real sense of professionalism. She argues that, in order for a woman's home-based job to be successful, spouses need to agree to discuss and evaluate these unspoken agreements, a process that would naturally require a level of openness and honesty that relatively uncommon.
According to Eileen Boris in a Women's Review of Books assessment of Women and Home-based Work, the author correctly points to a "hidden army of labor in a shadow economy" that often exploits women in the home. While the work middle-class women often do—everything from typing to running mail-order retail businesses—is not as demeaning and stressful as that done by women in Third-World countries or in city ghettoes, Christensen found that a sense of job satisfaction among those she studied was hindered by the constant tug-and-pull of home versus work responsibilities.
Christensen places some of the blame for home-based workers' dissatisfaction on employers who hire such women as "independent contractors" to avoid paying benefits or Social Security. Yet, according to Boris, Christensen also puts responsibility on the women themselves for buying into unspoken contracts with their domestic partners that create obstacles in their work life. The author says that a real solution would be "to recognize that the structure of work itself can be changed to benefit both parents and children." A Kirkus Reviews critic commented that Christensen "offers very little analysis, historical context, or practical suggestions" about the unspoken contracts accepted by the women she profiled and questioned why, when a survey for men was included, why the original survey of women on which the author based her findings was not. Boris concluded that studies done by Christensen and others help to reinforce the idea that "legal prohibition hasn't addressed why women do homework."
More recently, Christensen co-edited Contingent Work: American Employment Relations in Transition with Kathleen Barker. This book collects essays that address the outsourcing and hiring of temporary staff. Issues addressed include who the contingent workers are, how American businesses use contingent staffing, and what the human experiences of doing contingent work are. Divided into four sections, Contingent Work not only analyses the demographics involved and conditions in the modern workplace environment, but also offers case studies and analysis of current policies and changing labor practices. Labor History contributor Max Kirsch felt that the editors' premise that putting forth their book will stir debate and encourage the development of fair employment practices is naive. "The essential character of these corporations does not consider human costs," Kirsch asserted. "That said, there are some interesting pieces in this collection that provide data on the increase in contingent workers in the United States and their effect on families and communities." Writing in Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Brenda A. Lautsch more optimistically felt that "this volume builds a thorough and convincing interdisciplinary portrait of the problems in contingent work and of potential solutions to them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, summer, 1999, review of Contingent Work: American Employment Relations in Transition, p. 188.
Booklist, July, 1998, David Rouse, review of Contingent Work, p. 1840.
Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, spring, 1999, review of Contingent Work, p. 538.
Contemporary Sociology, January, 1990, Jean Stockard, review of The New Era of Home-based Work: Directions and Policies, p. 56; January, 2000, Ted Baker, review of Contingent Work, p. 250.
Gender & Society, June, 1990, Robin Leidner, review of The New Era of Home-based Work, p. 262.
Industrial and Labor Relations Review, April, 2000, Brenda A. Lautsch, review of Contingent Work, p. 525.
Industrial Relations, summer, 2000, Isik Urla Zeytinoglu, review of Contingent Work, p. 553.
Journal of American History, December, 1999, Judith Stein, review of Contingent Work, p. 1408.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1987, review of Women and Home-based Work: The Unspoken Contract, pp. 1551-1552.
Labor History, November, 1999, Max Kirsch, review of Contingent Work, p. 568.
Labor Studies Journal, fall, 1990, Judi Catlett, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 96.
Library Journal, December, 1987, Donna L. Nerboso, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 106.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 27, 1987, Marjorie Marks, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 4.
Mother Jones, January, 1988, Margie Frantz, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 52.
New York Times, August 12, 1990, Deirdre Fanning, "Fleeing the Office, and Its Distractions: Almost Half of the Executives Who Work at Home Are Men, and Most Are Managers," p. F25.
Publishers Weekly, November 27, 1987, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 73.
Signs, spring, 1991, Judith M. Gerson, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 621.
Telecommuting Review: The Gordon Report, August 1, 1989, "Perched on the 'Slippery Slope': The Manager's View of Providing More Flexibility," p. 10.
Wall Street Journal, March 11, 1988, Amanda Bennett, review of Women and Home-based Work, p. 20.
Women's Review of Books, June, 1988, Eileen Boris, "Bringing It All Back Home," pp. 8-9.*